Why Are There So Many Foreign Fishermen In Keelung?
Keelung is famous for its iconic fishery ports. But upon closer look, there’s something off about the day-to-day activities at the bay – the fisherman manning the ships are foreigners, mainly from Southeast Asian Countries. To find out why Taiwanese people aren’t going out to sea anymore and why they were replaces I went down to the harbour for a day of investigation.
Keelung and the Sea
Keelung has always had its connection to the sea, from the aboriginal cultures who worship nature to the arrival of Japanese traders and fishermen in the 1700s. Keelung and its surrounding harbours have always been busy day to night trading fish. A prime example of this is the fish market in the middle of the city. The Kanziding market is busy every single night from 11 PM when the trucks arrive from the coast to the early morning around 4 AM when the last of the auctions are carried out. On a rainy day, you will find most of the fishing boats docked along the harbour. On these boats, the men rest and take advantage of the bad weather to recover from a hard day of work the previous day.
Unbeknownst to most people from Keelung, the people who catch most of the fish available on market stalls are not actually from Keelung nor are they even from Taiwan. I found most fishermen were from other Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
This came as no surprise to me as most young people nowadays in developed countries such as Taiwan seek out a more comfortable living. Many Keelung natives also head to modern cities like Taipei to seek work. While an undeniably important part of Keelung’s culture, the fishing industry faces a risk of becoming a vanishing trade among its residents. Younger folk seek out more comfortable office jobs and show less interest in jobs which require manual labour. As a result of the lack of demand, Taiwanese people are slowly retiring from being the caretakers of the sea. Instead, they offer jobs to poorly-paid foreign workers to help them fish their waters, straying away from the heritage of indigenous Taiwan.
No Easy Job
These foreigners who offer to do the same work as Taiwanese fishermen, unfortunately get remunerated at a lower rate as well, and do not enjoy the same working conditions as Taiwanese workers. When we spoke to them, we found that they all felt like their work was very tough – they work long hours and sometimes even fish through the night. To top it off, boats are often not equipped with running water or electricity. While these foreign workers might not be born in Taiwan, they are now undoubtedly a part of Keelung’s iconic fishing culture, and their hard work in keeping the fishing village of Keelung alive should not go unnoticed.
A Call To Keep Keelung’s Fishing Spirit Alive
Behind the beautiful Keelung Harbour, are countless dedicated fishermen keeping the port and seas busy. Just a day spent with the fishermen helped us to grow a deeper appreciation for the trade, and I can’t help but hope that this can be felt more by today’s generation of Taiwanese youth. In the meantime, Keelung’s fishing ports will just have to thrive under these foreign workers hidden in the shadows.