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May 23, 2017

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Taiwan warships to escort fishing boats

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan will send its "big battleships" to escort the country's trawlers as the autumn crab season began almost two months late this year, the Council of Agriculture (COA) and the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) said Tuesday.

The CGA will send its "big battleships" with displacement of over 400 tons to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen, said CGA Deputy Director Wang Sui-yi (王祟儀). "These big ships travel fast and are armed with Type-20 machine guns. They are able to provide enough intimidation power," Wang said.

 These battleships will be deployed to provide 24 hour protection with the aim of fending off disturbance from mainland Chinese fishermen, who had been found catching crabs cross-border and harassing Taiwanese boats, according to the United Daily News.

 Taiwanese crab-fishermen are troubled by a marked decrease in catch volume this year. Due to the increase of sea water temperature this summer, the crab season is delayed. Crab production generally reaches its peak by August or September but the number of adult crabs only started to pick up recently this year, said James Sha (沙志一), director-general of COA's Fisheries Agency.

 The situation is more pronounced for the blood spotted crab, Sha said. Up to now, Taiwan harvested around 5,800kg of blood spotted crabs this year, dropping 60 percent from the same period last year. Blood spotted crab prices have jumped by 32 percent year-on-year.

 According to the United Daily News, mainland trawlermen use metal vessels armed with iron nets and they often work in large fleets of up to 100 boats. Taiwan trawlers, on the other hand, are generally more advanced fiberglass plastic vessels. However, they are less advantageous when it comes to close confrontation against Chinese metal ships.

 Chen Yu-chen (陳玉琛), an expert from the Fisheries Agency, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that that cross-strait fishery disputes generally take place at the northern sea and the water around Penghu. Taiwan can drive away Chinese fishing boats and even confiscate their tools and catches if they come within 24 nautical miles from the island's shore. However, the water between the 24 nautical mile line and the cross-strait median is considered a "grey area" where Taiwanese and Chinese boats often run into each other, Chen said.

 Taiwanese fishermen often place expensive crab-catching cages on the seabed in the grey area only to be destroyed by Chinese boats and their heavy metal nets as they trawl, Chen said. With the evidence buried under the sea, the fishermen are not able to claim for their losses.

 The COA said that battleships are not the only measure. The agency will talk with mainland officials to reach understanding in cross-strait fishing ethics.

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