Taiwan works hard to improve working condition of fishing industry

The latest “List of Goods Produced by Child Labour or Forced Labor” was released by the U.S. Department of Labour (DOL) on September 28, and Taiwanese seafood products were listed for the second time since 2020. Together with China’s ban on seafood imports from Taiwan, Taiwan’s fishing industry is currently facing hardship. Who is able to lead and make a change?

Chang Chih-sheng, with an amiable countenance, is the Fisheries Agency Director-General, yet he holds a PhD from the Department of Horticulture, National Chung-Hsing University. Before taking over his current position, Chang worked for the Council of Agriculture for many years. How did this amiable man turn from working in the field of agriculture into the fishing industry? What are the challenges that Chang is facing now? 

Watch the video interview here.

Chang Chih-sheng delivers a talk in October. Photo Credit: Brilliant Time Bookstore

From horticulture PhD graduate to fish 

Chang Chih-sheng’s PhD thesis investigated the relationship between plant growth and tree vigor in Kyoho Grapevines. He originally studied fruit trees in the Taichung Agricultural Research and Extension Station, specializing in species of sweet persimmons and grapes. The handbook of cultivation technology of persimmon provided to farmers in the early days was also written by Chang.

After Taiwan’s participation in the WTO since 2002, the government opened up the sector of private winemaking. The winemaking grapes Taichung No. 1 to Taichung No. 5 were cultivated by Chang, supporting the emerging wineries in Taiwan. He then worked for the Council of Agriculture for eight years. 

Although Chang seemed to make a big shift in his career from the Council of Agriculture to the Fisheries Agency, he shared with Maritime Fairtrade that he gained some relevant experience from his previous work at the Council of Agriculture. “When I was still working in the Guidance Department of the Council of Agriculture, I groomed a number of young farmers” and this was how he borrowed from his past experience in bringing up the young fishermen now. 

The Fisheries Agency strives to train the second generation of fishermen to become heirs of their fishing business, grooming new blood for the industry. “With the rise of the new generation, new ideas help rejuvenate the industry. In the past, most of the fishermen knew only how to catch fish, without knowing how to sell fish. Now we bring in branding strategies, and even cooperate with E-commerce platforms, thereby making the fishing industry much more vigorous,” Chang said.

Maritime Fairtrade interviews the Director-General of Taiwan Fisheries Agency, Chang Chih-sheng. Photo credit: Patricia Cheung

Watch the video interview here.

The challenges ahead 

At present, more than 20,000 foreign workers, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines, are working at the fishing industry. The human rights issue of these foreign workers indirectly points to the serious shortage of manpower. As one can imagine, working on fishing vessels is too hard, and few people are willing to join, especially the long-distance ones. This is the reason why in most of the ships, only the captain is Taiwanese, and the rest are all foreigners. 

Currently, international NGOs are concerned about four major problems, including underpayment and long working hours of foreign seafarers, poor living conditions on board, and not going ashore for a long time.

Chang said to Maritime Fairtrade: “I think the industry has encountered a lot of changes in these years, for example, the whole world is having more concern for marine conservation, the number of fishing vessels is getting smaller in Taiwan, and spaces in some of the fishing ports are not fully utilized. 

“And therefore, the fishing industry is undergoing a great transformation. This is the most difficult part as it affects people’s living. We hope to bring an increase in fishermen’s income, which originally would be affected by the conditions of the international market, including China’s market.”

Chang Chih-sheng gives a talk in Brilliant Time Bookstore. Photo Credit: Brilliant Time Bookstore

Increase transparency, let the world know more about our efforts

“Taiwan’s fishing industry is not as bad as it is said. We have done a lot but I think the problem is that our system is not transparent enough to let all the people know about it. I am confident that we can improve within a short period of time and create a fair working environment for the foreign workers,” Chang reiterated. 

Chang proved this by his action instead of words. He is well-known for his hard work to learn via travelling non-stop to fishing ports and fishing villages around the island. While Chang focuses on his management work, he trusts his veteran staff.

“The working direction is the most important. We have already set a 10-year plan in the past two years. The remaining problem would be how to allocate the human resources and of course, we have also been working hard to strive for more subsidies,” Chang said.

“I have to say that most of the Taiwanese are very friendly and would not mean to exploit the foreign workers,” he added.

Watch the video interview here.

Top photo credit: Pexels/Christian Wasserfallen

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