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Taiwanese drift nets appear in Atlantic, threatening swordfish, shark resources.

Taiwanese Drift Nets Appear in Atlantic, Threatening Swordfish, Shark Resources

When other countries raised a chorus of protests against use of drift nets in the Pacific, Taiwanese fishermen got the drift -- but not the way they were supposed to.

Instead of phasing out use of the nets, as they had announced a few months ago, they seem to be moving operations to the Atlantic. Vessels whose markings identify them as coming from the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung have started operating out of Trinidad.

Drift nets, which can stretch up to 40 miles and hang 30 feet deep in the water, do just what their name implies -- drift. Along their way, they sweep up everything in their path, from fish to marine mammals. It's been compared to strip mining the ocean.

In the Pacific, drift nets were criticized for sweeping up immature salmon as well as albacore tuna and other species harvested closer to shore by the United States. In the Atlantic, they are said to be sweeping up bluefish tuna, swordfish and sharks -- the Taiwanese don't even want the sharks, just their fins.

The United Nations General Assembly voted last December for a world-wide moratorium on drift nets after June 30, 1992, and called for further expansion of their use to "cease immediately." Taiwan, since it claims to be the legitimate government of China, already represented in the U.N., by Beijing, isn't a member of the world body. Spokesmen for Taiwan say the country will comply anyway.

Japanese fishing boats have also been using drift nets in the North Pacific, although they have agreed --on paper, at least--to phase them out. Conservationists aren't convinced of the sincerity of the Japanese. The Sea Shepherd II, a vessel manned by one activisit group, took to ramming Japanese fishing boats in August to disable the equipment used to recover drift nets.

The U.S. North Pacific tuna catch has virtually disappeared since Japan started using drift nets in the 1970s, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Australia and New Zealand have made the same complaint in the South Pacific. Besides the Japanese and the Taiwanese, the South Koreans have been active in drift netting -- unlike the Japanese, who have said they'll stop doing it this month, and the Taiwanese, who have said they'll stop doing it next year, the South Koreans haven't said anything.

In the Atlantic, swordfish are particularly vulnerable, according to Dr. Carl Safina of the National Audubon Society. "Most people agree that swordfish are on the verge of collapse because there are fewer mature fish in the population," he told The New York Times. As for sharks, an increasingly popular food fish, "It would take decades for them to recover from the kind of fishing these things accomplish in two or three years."
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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