TAIPEI--Japan and Taiwan agreed to new rules Jan. 24 for longline tuna fishing in waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
A fisheries agreement reached in April 2013 had allowed Taiwanese fishing boats to operate in those waters. But the absence of specific rules led to complaints from fishermen in Okinawa who said that the larger boats of their rivals made it difficult for them to operate in the same waters.
The new rules will apply to the so-called special cooperative waters in the eastern part of the waters covered by the fisheries agreement and stipulate that Japanese guidelines will be followed in northern waters and Taiwanese regulations will be followed in southern waters.
Efforts were made to establish the new rules before the start of the next fishing season in spring. Fishermen in Okinawa said they were hesitant to operate in waters near the Senkakus because they use fewer, and much smaller boats. Taiwanese fishermen operate vessels ranging in size from 20 tons to 50 tons.
The key issue in establishing the rules was setting the distances separating the boats operating in the waters. Japanese officials argued that safety concerns meant a distance of four nautical miles was needed.
However, Taiwanese officials called for a distance of one nautical mile because they wanted as many boats as possible operating at the same time.
The special cooperative waters will be divided during the fishing season between May and July. Japanese rules on the distance between boats will apply in the northern half, while Taiwanese rules will be followed in the southern half.
Boats from the two sides can operate in either half as long as they abide by the rules that cover that area.
The new rules also cover a triangular section that juts out southward from the boundary that has been declared by Taiwan toward the Yaeyama Islands. The new rules will cover about one-quarter of that section.
Between April and July, the Japanese side will be obliged to inform their Taiwanese counterparts beforehand of the days they will operate in that section. The Japanese and Taiwanese boats will abide by the four-nautical-mile distance between boats.
Taiwanese boats will be able to operate freely under their own rules in that section on days when no Japanese boats are in the waters.
The waters covered by the fisheries agreement are mainly those that overlap between Japan's exclusive economic zone and the area that Taiwan argues is under its administrative control.
Taiwan sought a fisheries agreement because it wanted its fishing boats to operate freely in the waters that were effectively under the control of Japan.
Negotiations began in 1996, but little progress was made until Japan softened its stance in hopes of stopping Taiwan from joining hands with China in the territorial dispute over the Senkakus.
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