Inheritance of Kuroshio Fisheries Culture

The Kuroshio Current is the western boundary current of the subtropical gyre in the North Pacific Ocean. It flows to the north along the eastern coast of Taiwan and finally enters into the southern region of Japan. The waters off eastern Taiwan are strongly influenced by the Kuroshio Current, where the rich, fishery resources of Taiwan’s eastern coast are a direct result of that. Among such abundance resources, fishes have been those most appreciated by the eastern Taiwan people. Over the past 30 years, the Eastern Marine Biology Research Center of Fisheries Research Institute has conserved over 3,000 specimens of the fish fauna off eastern Taiwan. The Research Center has become a signature fish museum, offering a collection of numerous fish fauna and Kuroshio fisheries culture endemic to the eastern Taiwan coast. 

Figure 1. The ship-shaped new administration building of Shinkang Fishermen’s Association was built in 2001.
Photo by: Jun- Hsung Tian (2001/11/23)

Figure 2. The billfish harpooning crew of five.
Photo by: Wei-Chuan Chiang (2007/12/27)

Figure 3. Captain (leftmost), left-assistant (second from the left), leader (third from the left) and helmsman (rightmost) were chasing billfish.
Photo by: Wei-Chuan Chiang (2007/12/27)

Figure 4. The harpooner stood on the harpoon platform (front) with a harpoon pole ready to harpoon.
Photo by: Hsiao-Min Hung (2010/2/22)

FFigure 5. The billfish sculpture paraded in Chenggong township for the first time in the 2002 Lantern Festival.
Photo by: Jun- Hsung Tian (2002/2/26)

Figure 6. The billfish sculpture paraded under firecrackers in the 2010 Lantern Festival.
Photo by: Hsiao-Min Hung (2010/2/28)

The Kuroshio fishery of the eastern Taiwan has a rich history and a great significance in the interaction of fisheries in Japan and Taiwan. As new technology advances and progresses are made every day, there is an urgent need to preserve this historical information properly. It is very important to document existing relevant fishery culture of the Kuroshio and passing on a complete account of fishing practices in the eastern Taiwan.

Harpoon fishing technology in Taiwan was introduced by fishermen from the Oita prefecture of Japan in 1913. Kaohsiung and Keelung were among the first places to develop a harpoon fishery. Since then, harpoon billfish fishery was developed in other places. Suao (northeastern Taiwan) was the most active area, with the largest fishery immigrant population assigned to the county after a harbor was built in 1926. After the Shinkang (southeastern Taiwan) harbor had been built at 1932, fishery immigrants came mostly from the Chiba-ken prefecture. By the end of the Second World War, the harpoon fishery has become the most important fishery, during when Japanese still occupied Taiwan.

In a billfish harpoon team, every of crewmember’s responsibilities were clearly assigned. A fishing crew can consist up to 5 to 12 people. During Japanese occupation in Taiwan, the local fishermen were usually recruited for simple tasks, such as cooking. When Taiwan was recovered in 1945, Japanese fishermen were sought after by the Taiwanese government for transferring fishing technologies to the Taiwanese people. Fishermen in eastern Taiwan were able to learn the latest harpoon fishing technology. Till this day, the same harpoon method is still used and has stayed unchanged since that Japanese rule over Taiwan. The only difference is the use of a diesel engine, where a crewman is responsible for keeping an eye on. Modern ships have the availability of coal gas, which the crew can prepare meals very efficiently (faggots is on the favorite menu). Crew count is also reduced as a benefit of modern technologies.

The fisherman, often battling the powerful northeastern monsoon and the huge billows of winter, is eying the slightly sight of the billfish. The fisherman must have the mental aptitude to keep a close inspection on all sides of the vessel, hoping for the billfish fin to raise its majestic appearance above water among sea. As a harpoon pole strikes a billfish in the sea, a wrestle begins with pitting the strength of a billfish against the will of a fisherman, and intermixed with many spectacular scenes of the billfish jumping of the water. All these are encapsulated within that fisherman that is behind the harpoon, who combines the accuracy with determination to fight with the awe-inspiring billfish.

Although the fisherman and billfish have a relationship as hunter and prey, the fisherman and fishing village residents all nourish a special emotion to the billfish. Billfish are seen everywhere, from signs, lampposts, landmark, to being adopted as a totem. Located in “Wann-Shann Temple” in Shinkang Township, a billfish totem blesses fishermen with plentiful harvest of fish. Respectful villagers also commissioned a carpenter to build a billfish sculpture, measuring a length of 3.6 meters, for the fishermen and fishing village residents to prostrate, offer burning incense for great prosperity and pray to gods for blessings. During the hugely popular, annual Lantern Festival, the teenagers of fishing village form a team to lift the billfish sculpture respectfully, going around the town. Festive villages celebrate with a strong grateful appreciation to the billfish as the billfish sculpture appears in the fishing village, and look forward to going to sea and fishing smoothly for all fisheries, wishing for safe returns with abundant harvest.

Digital archives of the inheritance at Kuroshio fisheries culture are to highlight the fishing of billfish at fishing ports off eastern Taiwan, and showcase the cultural vitality of this fishery. It can be enable anyone to browse, search, download and use the information through the internet. And, Kuroshio fisheries culture can impel at the same time about information science and technology to combine with fishing village culture. Finally, we wish to transmit information and cultural exchanges with international Kuroshio research institute.


Text and images are provided by Fisheries Research Institute, Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, R.O.C.


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