Taipei, Feb. 15 (CNA) The Fisheries Agency on Saturday defended revisions to policies on coral harvesting, saying it has adopted stringent measures to ensure sustainable growth despite a local newspaper accusing it of easing restrictions. A report in the Saturday edition of the Liberty Times said that the agency has relaxed regulations on licenses for coral harvesting boats so that the permits can be inherited, transferred or switched to a new ship in spite of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) stance against trade in corals. CITES meetings have repeatedly discussed restricting trade in red corals, which Liberty Times said is a favorite souvenir of Chinese tourists to Taiwan. Yen Ning, an ocean campaigner from Greenpeace East Asia, told the paper that Taiwan's coral market is being swamped with Chinese buyers since China
has banned fishing and illegal sales of red corals, allowing only transactions with certificates of origin. The Fisheries Agency replied later in the day that its revisions were made in consideration of coral harvesting boat owners, most of which are part of a family business in which skippers and owners are related through blood or marriage. The new regulations allow inheritance and transfers between those relatives, it said. Owners or inheritors can build new ships only if their old ones are damaged or sunk due to unavoidable events, though the tonnage of the new ships must be reduced 10 percent. While the agency acknowledged harvesting areas were increased, it said that the total haul allowed per year has been cut by half, from 12 tons to six tons. Taiwan's coral harvesting focuses on deep sea precious gem corals, particularly momo, aka, shiro and miss varieties, instead of shallow sea reef-building corals, the agency said.
While deep-sea corals regenerate, they do so very slowly.
The Fisheries Agency said that it adopted an early-warning system in 2009 that restricts harvesting to five areas deeper than 100 meters so as to avoid impacting shallow coral ecology. (By Lin Hui-chun and Lilian Wu)