Spiraling budget for upgrading Taiwan’s fishing port sparks controversy

In recent months, controversy erupted over the allegedly high budget allocated for the upgrading of the Cianjhen Fishing Port in Kaohsiung city, which has been in operations since 1967. The initial budget of NT$30 million (US$937,000) ballooned to NT$1.3 billion, and finally to NT$8.1 billion. 

The controversy sparked public debate and brought to surface tensions and accusations of unfair allocation of resources among prefectures, competition among special municipalities, and gap between rural and urban development. Although this issue pertains to the development of the fishing industry, but the upcoming presidential election in January 2024 was dragged into it.

The current Cianjhen Fishing Port. Photo credit: Fisheries Agency

The final budget, 270-fold of the original estimate, was 1.73-fold of the total amount that the Fisheries Agency spent for the development of Taiwan’s fishery industry in 2022. Adding to the controversy was the fact that out of the NT$535.8 billion Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program (FLIDP) that the central government used to subsidize local governments, NT$126.5 billion, which accounted for 23.6 percent, was allocated to Kaohsiung City, ranking it first among the six municipalities. 

The opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of bias as Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chi-mai is a DPP member.

The current Cianjhen Fishing Port. Photo credit: Port of Kaohsiung.

The Fisheries Agency told Maritime Fairtrade the upgrading of Cianjhen Fishing Port, which has been in use for 56 years straight without any renovation, is necessary as Taiwan’s pelagic fisheries has been facing great international pressure to improve the working conditions of migrant fishermen.

Improvements included NT$2.524 billion to convert current fishing port into a wharf with 7.5-meter depth, which can accommodate offshore fishing vessels up to 3,000 tons; NT$1.564 billion to build a new sewage system; NT$2.746 billion for multi-functional aquatic market and renovation of existing fish market; NT$495 million to set up a multi-functional crew service center with shops, restaurants, shower rooms, prayer rooms and accommodation spaces; and  NT$774 million for port environmental improvement.

The Cianjhen Fishing Port under construction. Photo credit: Fisheries Agency

The Cianjhen Fishing Port has a huge impact on Taiwan’s economy. However, it is now plagued by problems, including old equipment, overlapping loading/unloading operations with wholesale markets nearby, mistreatment of wastewater, among others.

In 2019, the Kaohsiung City Government applied for a NT$30 million upgrading budget but then premier of Executive Yuan, Su Zhenchang, decided to allocate a bigger budget to elevate the port to world-class international standards, to give a much needed boost to the local fishing industry and urban tourism.

Allocation of budget to different works. Image credit: Patricia Cheung

The Cianjhen Fishing Port, one of many fishing ports in Kaohsiung Port, is categorized by the Council of Agriculture of the Taiwan Executive Yuan as First Category with operating scopes covering Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean. The Port has the largest pelagic fish catch, 40 percent of the total value, and is home to the largest tonnage of fishing vessels.

The Port is situated at an industrial area near to CITIC, Taiwan’s largest private shipbuilding company, and the headquarter of Jeanfu Food, which produces the well-known snack “Jeanjean Shredded Squid”. The annual output value of related industries is approaching NT$100 billion.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fishing Port Act, fishing ports are divided into First Category and Second Category. The First Category is managed by the central authority while Second Category is managed by municipal and county (city) governments. There are nine First-Category fishing ports. 

Top photo credit: Fisheries Agency. Artist’s impression of the new upgraded Cianjhen Fishing Port.

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