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The fishermen spend up to six hours a night at sea to catch between 2.7 and 3.6 tonnes of sardines, which can earn them, on a really good night, more than US$4,500. Only bad weather forces them to shore early.

The number of boats using the traditional fire fishing method in Jinshan, Taiwan, has fallen from 300 to just three. The remaining fishermen have a seasonal window from May to July when they can catch sardines using fire, a practice that dates back hundreds of years

For hundreds of years, fishermen in Taiwan have been catching sardines with the help of fiery stick held over the edge of a boat. The fish are so attracted to the light that they jump out of the water and into the nets of the fishermen.

Fire fishing is as simple as it is mesmerizing. Fishing boats head out to sea during the night, and light up a bamboo stick covered with sulfuric soil at one end to create a bright flame. The sulfur dissolves in the water and the gas produced then flashes with fire. Drawn to the light spectacle, sardines jump out of the water by the hundreds at a time and end up in the fishermen’s nets. Sulfuric fire fishing was developed during the period of Japanese Rule and is now practiced only in the Jinshan sulfur harbor.

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As the sun sets, a small group of Taiwanese fishermen set sail off the north-east coast, light a fire on the end of a bamboo stick using chemicals and wait for the fish to come.
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There used to be 300 boats using the traditional fire fishing method but now there are only three, according to the fishermen’s association in Jinshan district, north of Taipei.
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The fire is waved over the side of the fishing boat.
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Like moths, hundreds of sardines leap out of the water towards the light and are caught in large nets.
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The 30 or so remaining fishermen have a three-month seasonal window from May to July when they can catch sardines using fire.
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The fishermen spend up to six hours a night at sea to catch 3-4 tonnes of sardines, which can earn them more than $4,500 (£3,380) on a good night.
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‘My daily earnings are unstable, but for a living I need to sail,’ Jian Kun, a 60-year-old boat owner, said.
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The method of lighting the fire has been updated to include the use of calcium carbide.
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The boats are old, which makes it physically challenging for the fishermen, whose average age is 60.
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The government provides a subsidy to encourage them to continue the practice.
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Fire fishing is as simple as it is mesmerizing. Fishing boats head out to sea during the night, and light up a bamboo stick covered with sulfuric soil at one end to create a bright flame. The sulfur dissolves in the water and the gas produced then flashes with fire. Drawn to the light spectacle, sardines jump out of the water by the hundreds at a time and end up in the fishermen’s nets. Sulfuric fire fishing was developed during the period of Japanese Rule and is now practiced only in the Jinshan sulfur harbor.
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There were once over 300 boats practicing fire fishing in Taiwan, but according to the local fishermen’s association in Jinshan District, north of Taipei, that number has dwindled to just three. A six-hour fishing session under the night sky can yield between three and four tons of sardines per boat, and the Taiwanese government even subsidizes the practice. On a really good night, a team of fishermen can earn up to $4,500, so why is this fascinating tradition dying?
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Unfortunately, sardine season only lasts three months, from May to July, and despite government efforts to keep the tradition alive and promote it as a tourist attraction, young people don’t seem very impressed. The age of remaining fire fishermen averages at around 60 years old, and with no new blood in sight, the future of this fascinating tradition doesn’t look very bright.
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Zheng Zhi-ming, a professor of religious studies at Fu Jen Catholic University, says that using sulfuric fire to catch fish in the northeast region of Taiwan was common two or three decades ago, but the rapid improvement of fishing equipment combined with the exodus of youths from fishing villages have led to the decline of a tradition that was once considered one of the eight must-see attractions in Jinshan.
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The fishermen spend up to six hours a night at sea to catch between 2.7 and 3.6 tonnes of sardines, which can earn them, on a really good night, more than US$4,500. Only bad weather forces them to shore early.
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“My daily earnings are unstable, but for a living I need to sail,” said Jian Kun, a 60-year-old boat owner, of the fire fishermen’s plight.
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The government provides a subsidy to the fishermen to encourage them to continue fire fishing and in 2014, it also applied to the New Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs for registration for the technique as a cultural asset.
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The government provides a subsidy to the fishermen to encourage them to continue fire fishing and in 2014, it also applied to the New Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs for registration for the technique as a cultural asset.
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The annual Jinshan Sulphuric Fire Fishing festival was started in 2013 to help promote the tradition, while photography tours have been set up to generate interest and boost finances.
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The method of lighting the fire has been updated to include the use of calcium carbide, but the boats are old and the average age of the fishermen is about 60.

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The annual Jinshan sulphuric fire fishing festival began in 2013 to help promote the practice, while photography tours have been set up to generate interest and raise money.

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A fisherman prepares ice to transport the scaled sardines to market.

Photos just don’t do this amazing tradition justice, but luckily YouTube user Kenny Chen shot this amazing video of fire fishermen practicing their trade in Jinshan. Enjoy!

See more Taiwan travel guide at here.

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