A Gold Rush in the Ocean –Taiwan's Prowess in Pelagic Squid Fishery
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photos by Huang Ching-wen
2015 has been a good year for Taiwan's pelagic squid fishery industry. After a voyage lasting 35 to 40 days, the ships finally docked at Cianjhen Fishing Port. Luck was on the side of the fishermen, as their total catch was around 220,000 tonnes.
Squid is one of the most popular and relatively inexpensive seafood items in Taiwan, but few people know how much work is involved in getting their favorite seafood to the table. For one thing, the fishing vessels have to travel far from the home, to fishing grounds in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Taiwan currently ranks third in the world in terms of the volume of squid caught, behind China and Argentina. In addition to squid, Taiwan also makes the top three for tuna and Pacific saury, so Taiwan is truly a major player in the global pelagic fishery industry.
Cianjhen Fishing Port is the home base for all of Taiwan's pelagic fishing vessels. Different types of ships dock during different seasons. Right now it is the time for the squid fleet; when the port is at its busiest, ships need to triple park along the jetties. "Time is money" is the industry's mantra, and this is because, in pelagic fishing, everything has to be planned down to the smallest detail, and everything has to be done precisely to schedule. As soon as a ship docks, the catch is unloaded. Each vessel then gets ready for a voyage to the Northern Pacific for the Pacific saury season in the second half of the year.
In recent years, Taiwan's squid ships have worked mostly in the Southwest Atlantic, in a fishing spot near the Falkland Islands known as the "Fisheries Gold Mine." Famed Argentine squid is the most significant fishing resource near the islands.
The UK government –which has sovereignty over the islands –has been trying to balance sustainability with commercial concerns. Back in 1986, it announced that an area 150 nautical miles in radius would become an ocean sanctuary, and created a quota limiting the number of ships allowed to fish in the waters. A ship must first obtain a license in order to legally fish within 150 nautical miles of the Falkland Islands.
Taiwan started fishing for squid near the islands as early as 1982, and once the licensing regulation was put in place in 1987, the Taiwanese fleet purchased a license immediately. Taiwan's fishing vessels have thus always been fishing legally within the sanctuary. A new regulation was announced earlier this year, limiting the squid season near the Falkland Islands to February 15 to May 15. So they could start work on the opening day of the fishing season, the fleet had to set out from Kaohsiung at the end of December 2014 – a perfect example of how the calendar dominates pelagic fishing.
Squid rest deep in the ocean during the day, then swim to the surface to feed at night, so squid fishermen need to work after dark. Once they have chosen where to fish, the ships stay at that location. Squid are attracted to light, so the ships are equipped with squid lights to lure them in. Squid are line fished, so plastic bait tied onto fishing lines is released into the water. When they are pulled up, the squid fall into a net, then into a gully installed at the side of the ship. Seawater runs through the gully, flushing the squid into the boat's storage area. There, the crew sort them by grade, then place them in the freezer at the vessel's aft. Later, the frozen squid are loaded onto a transporter and sent home, while the fishing ship stays behind to continue with the harvest. At night during squid season, the ocean around the Falkland Islands is brightly lit due to the large number of squid ships, most of which are from Taiwan or South Korea.
When the squid season ends, most of the Taiwanese squid ships head home. The first wave of returning boats gets back to Cianjhen on June 18, where dock crews are waiting for them. The unloading starts as soon as the ships have docked. Conveyor belts connected to each ship roll out blocks and blocks of ice containing the precious catch. The fishing crews take pride in their work, as the evidence of six hard months on the high seas are transferred to dry land.
Mr. Shi Jiao-ming, standing supervisor of the Taiwan Squid Fishery Association, says every little thing matters on a fishing ship, and the work does not stop at unloading the ship. Squid caught by Taiwanese boats are sold to China, Vietnam, Europe and the Americas. Depending on where they are going, they need different documentation. For example, exports to the EU, Vietnam, Russia and China all require a statement from Taiwan's authorities about the vessel which caught the squid. On top of that, Vietnam, Russia and China stipulate that all fishing vessels satisfy an additional health inspection conducted by the Bureau of Standards Metrology and Inspection, part of Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). EU rules are the most stringent, as they require all ships pass the Inspection of Fishing Vessels Supplying Fishery Products for Export to the European Union. Also, the captain of the ship must be certified in health and hygiene training.
What is more, the MOEA requires all sites where produce for export is stored or processed to be certified as safe locations. These requirements are onerous, but certificates issued by the exporting country stating the product is safe to eat give consumers peace of mind, assuring them that each step in the entire process has been supervised and monitored for safety. In this sense, stringent demands are a good thing for Taiwan, because they push the fisheries industry to continue improving the quality of its products.
The pelagic fishing industry depends on and sustains a wide range of other industries: fuel supply; freezer storage; processing, supply and logistics; and shipbuilding. With such a support system, it is no wonder that Taiwan's pelagic fleet is one of the most respected in the world, welcomed in various international fishing organizations as a fishing entity, to sit at the negotiating table and speak on behalf of our fishermen and protect their rights.
Squid is a high-protein, low-fat seafood. It is rich in taurine, which reduces cholesterol buildup on the walls of blood vessels. The fats in squid are unsaturated fats such as EPA and DHC, so those who love seafood can enjoy this delicacy without feeling guilty. There are many ways to enjoy this bounty of the sea: Grilled whole; sliced and flash fried; boiled; stir fried; or deep fried. It is good for both your body and your wallet.
近年來，台灣魷釣船隊集中在西南大西洋附近、素有「漁業界金礦」之稱的英屬福克蘭群島水域捕釣阿根廷魷魚，阿根廷魷是福克蘭群島漁獲量最大的漁獲，握有豐沛魷魚資源的福克蘭群島政府致力探勘沿海漁業和商業資源的永續捕撈與開發，於1986年宣布150浬海域為保護區，對於進入海域捕魚的漁船採配額限制，所有進入保護區內作業的漁船得申請購買作業執照才能在福克蘭群島150浬海域捕魚，福克蘭群島自次(1987) 年開始收取作業執照。台灣魷釣船船隊早於1982 年開始開發西南大西洋海域福克蘭群島的魷釣漁場，自1987年起，向福克蘭群島申請購買作業執照，進入福島150浬經濟海域保護區內作業。此外，福克蘭群島對於阿根廷魷魚採取限期政策，今年阿根廷魷魚捕撈時期為2月15日至5月15日，而為了趕上今年2月15日起跑的阿根廷魷魚捕撈 ，台灣魷釣船自去(2014)年12月底便啟程，遠洋魷釣漁船縝密的行程由此可見一般。