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Navy Protection Helps Increase Tuna Catches Taiwan, May 23, 13

The number of bluefin tuna caught off Pingtung County has increased significantly as a result of the government’s intensified efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen following the fatal shooting of a local fisherman by Philippine marine patrol personnel May 9, a fishermen’s association said Wednesday.

Since the incident occurred, 102 bluefin tuna worth about NT$50 million (USD 1.7 million) have been caught in waters off the southern county, said a fishermen’s association in Donggang Township, Pingtung.

A Philippine government vessel attacked a Pingtung registered fishing boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, on May 9, killing a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng, in overlapping waters of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones.

Amid escalating tensions between the countries after the incident, Taiwan’s Navy and Coast Guard Administration (CGA) held a joint exercise in the overlapping zone in the Bashi Channel on May 16.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, most bluefin tuna fishing vessels registered in Pingtung took to the seas, bringing in big catches.

The government’s recent efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen have allowed them to breathe a sigh of relief and helped them increase their haul.

So far this month, 143 bluefin tuna have been caught -- 11 more than in the same period last year -- with 102 caught in the May 9-22 period alone, according to statistics from the fishermen’s association.

Bluefin tuna could fetch NT$800 to NT$1,600 per kilogram (USD 27 to USD 54) on the open market, said Lin Han-chou, the head of the Donggang fishermen’s association.

Most of the bluefin tuna caught this year have been between 300-350 kg each, compared with 200-250 kg last year, he said. This year, the haul so far has been valued at about NT$50 million, he added.

Many Taiwanese fishermen are hoping that the government will soon start talks with the Philippines on fishing rights, Lin said.

Meanwhile, it was reported that the fuel costs for the joint exercise and the increased Coast Guard patrols off Taiwan’s south coast was over NT$5 million.

Sources said that there are not enough funds to maintain regular patrols to protect Taiwan’s fishermen, as the defense budget currently allocates NT$10 billion for fuel and NT$500 million for Coast Guard operations for a whole year.

Two temples -- one in Kaohsiung and one in Tainan -- have each donated NT$2 million to the government in support of its efforts to beef up maritime patrols.