Foreign fishermen in Keelung? To find out why Taiwanese people aren’t going out to sea anymore and who replaced them, I went to the harbor to investigate.
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 it’s surrounding harbors have always been busy 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 in the harbor. 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. The fishing industry is slowly becoming less culturally important. Younger folk seek out more comfortable office jobs and show less interest in more physical or skilled trade jobs. The declining interest in the fishing industry is similar to that of the native forms of performing arts such as music.
Still, I am surprised to see that the long-existing link between Taiwanese culture and the sea is slowly becoming weaker. Taiwanese people have stopped being the caretakers of the sea. They offer jobs to poorly paid foreign workers to fish their waters. I feel that this is a break with the heritage of indigenous Taiwan.
No Easy Job
Despite having a long relationship with the sea. Work within the Keelung fishing industry is still labor that is undertaken by foreigners who offer to do the same work as Taiwanese fishermen at a lower rate.
The migrant workforce driving the fishing industry in Keelung does not enjoy the same working conditions as Taiwanese workers.
When we met them we found that they all felt like their work was very hard. they work long hours and even fish throughout the night sometimes. All this without running water or electricity on the boat. Working conditions which, to me, speak of substandard quality and protection for these workers. Over time, we will see how these developments affect Taiwanese culture, especially in a smaller port city like Keelung.