How is Taiwan? last ‘fire fishing boat keeps tradition alive

Jinshan, New Taipei (CNN) — When the night falls, a group of fishermen set sailing off the coast of Northern Taiwan, where they are preparing for catch sardines with An traditional method: fire.

Once they are at sea, a fisherman lights up fire on a stick with acetylene gas – generated by adding water to calcium carbide, which the locals call sulphurous stones.

A chaotic scene follows: Hundreds of shimmering scaly sardines jumping out of the sea like shooting stars while other fishermen scoop them up up in nets.

As the fishing gets going, the pungent smell comes of the gas lingers in the air.

For centuries, local fishermen have in have been to Northern Taiwan catching scaly sardines with fire. According to the Cultural Affairs Department of New Taipei City, the earliest documentation of the technique met calcium carbide is about one century past, in a period when the island was ruled by the Japanese.

The practice is believed to have originated from the Basay people, an aborigine group who lived in the area for centuries.

As recent as six decades ago, about 100 fishing boats set sail between May and August and illuminate the sea with soft yellow flames. But when the scaly sardines descended in value, just a single fire fishing boat still exists in Taiwan today.

AN practice to date back centuries

Hsu Cheng-cheng, a Taiwanese tour operator, is on An mission to keep the tradition alive.

Hsu . has been running since 2012 regular tours in Jinshan, a rural coastal town in Northern Taiwan, allowing tourists to appreciate the tradition up close to.

He explains that the fire fishing practice was widely accepted in before because it was effective in catching scaled sardines, die were popular in Taiwan.

“Back in the days, people would catch scaly sardines as food. The fish is sweet and has a lot of small bones, so it’s rich in calcium,” he tells CNN. “The fish is usually fried of stewed in soy sauce with grated ginger.”

Sardines rise to the water surface.

Sardines rise to the water surface.

John Mees/CNN

Scaled sardines were normally caught during the summer season because the fish would follow the water current through the Pacific to the shores of Northern Taiwan.

Once the boat has arrived at the fishery? location, the fisherman responsible for turn on the lights fire — known as the “fire chief” — would be . instruct team until add the right amount of water at the right time.

sardines, attracted to the light, jump out of the water and in the fishery nets.

However, the tradition slowly faded as the song of scaly sardines in the area dropped quickly. The fish also gradually became less popular and cheaper, leaving many anglers met retired and left the industry.

Saving the tradition

Hsu, 60, said he was inspired to save the tradition because it was an important part of Taiwan’s local heritage.

“I had a strong feeling that it was” soon extinction,” he says.

hsu, who has also led ecotours, says he appreciates the importance of cultural heritage because of its intertwining with local ecology.

Because it is no longer profitable to catch scaly sardines, Hsu’s tours have generated income for the fishermen so they can carry on with the tradition and promote it to the rest of the world.

In 2015, the fire fishing tradition was mentioned by the local government as a “cultural” assetraising awareness of the importance of preservation of the practice.

Taiwanese last other “fire fishing boat.

John Mees/CNN

A glimpse of heap

While many fishermen met have retired because of the demanding work and low income, Chien Shi-kai, 28, decided to join the profession to wear on the family business.

Chien started to learn how until catch sardines with fire soon after he had a compulsory military maintenance.

“Mine father possess one of the fire fishing boats, so it was natural for Me too join the business,” he says.

“Two years ago, the ‘fire chief’ had to quit due to health problems. Mine father and uncles on the boat wanted until pass the tradition down to the next generation and they encouraged me to take over. That’s why I became fire chief in such a short time.”

Today is Chien responsible for lighting the flame on the last fire fishing boat in Taiwan.

During the summer fishing season, he usually works all night to get the catch. “It’s a night job” with heavy work. When things become busy, we have to work from 4 p.m. all way until 7 o’clock’ says chien.

But the job is rewarding, he adds, because he enjoys the sentence of achievement when he hits the right spot and comes back with An big catch.

Several plans have been discussed between the community and the authorities to fire fishing tradition lives on, but Chien says nothing is more squeeze then bring the fish back.

“If you want to promote it as a tourist attraction of increase profitability of the business, it’s all going back to the fish,” he explains. “If we don’t have fish, it’s… won’t be exciting for tourists, and it won’t be possible increase income.”

Meanwhile, Chien and Hsu are working together up.

Hsu has walked 4.5 hours tours exhibit fire fishing for tourists and photo enthusiasts during the summer months. From the port of Bisha in Keelung, a neighbor city of New Taipei, tourists can board a separate vessel that sails close to the Chien fishing boat because it de catch.

The practice is completely aimed at tourists: the fire fishing boat moves slower than usual, so the boat is full with tourists can catch up; the fishermen also residence in one place longer than usual so that people can capture the beauty of the place with their camera’s.

After catching the scaly sardines in front of tourists, most of the fish are then released back to the sea. hsu says this will hopefully allow the fish population grow in the future.

He hopes that the current business model can give the old tradition chance to survive.

“If the fish are back again and stuff practice can create sufficient economic benefits, new fishermen maybe join, and the tradition can be revived,” says hsu.

Images by John Mees of CNN.

Read More: World News

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