The ship has already left windy and rainy Keelung and we just arrived at the second stop of the Ocean Defenders East Asia tour, Su-ao in eastern Taiwan. Suao is the second largest tuna fishery port in Taiwan.
At 7am the following day, we went to the fishing market of Nanfangao. Unfortunately (or luckily), the vessels did not go out because of bad weather. We walked along the cold wet street on the side of the port, hundreds of small longliners are docked here. You can see that most of the fishermen are not Taiwanese; they come from Indonesia, Philippines… usually only the captain is Taiwanese.
Most fishermen in Nanfangao are over 60 years old. Young people just don’t want to work in this industry. Some old fishermen worry that the industry will die in 10 years, when all the old captains have retired.
We went to the fishing market, but couldn’t find any tuna. Two bunches of Mackerel were lying on the ground, which were caught by purse seiners. The workers were putting the fish into foam boxes. Nanfangao supplies 95% of mackerel in Taiwan.
The small scale longliners at Nanfangao are mainly working on the local coastal fishery. The catch is usually fresh yellowfin tuna, sometimes bigeye tuna but there is a short period targeting bluefins in the early summer.
We walked around the harbour, looking for any tuna. Suddenly, my colleague was pointing at a small truck, and we found one tuna there. The tuna was off-loaded in the middle of the fishing market. It was a yellowfin. A few people stood around this lonely fish looking at its colour, size, freshness…
Suddenly, the tuna moved! I can see the muscle contraction on its stomach. Although I don’t believe that it was still alive, but the move reminded me it used to be a strong yellowy silver rocket swimming in the sea.
At 9:00am the auction bell rang. The staff from the fishing association started the auction. The buyers cried out the price in Taiwanese dialect and the auction ended in just 2 minutes. I asked the staff of the buyer and she said the tuna was sold at TWD 390 per kg. The tuna was 69kg, so the total price of the whole tuna was around TWD 27000 (US$ 800).
Usually, the price of yellowfin is around TWD 280-300 per kg. This tuna was sold at a higher price than normal, since this is the only catch for the day. Sometimes the decline in total catch will drive up the price of the fish.
We left the market as the auction ended. But many questions were left inside my mind after the trip. How many people are making their living off the tuna? What would they do if this was the last tuna for the second largest tuna fishing port in Taiwan?
Apple Chow is the Senior Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace East Asia - currently on board the Rainbow Warrior.