Jinshan Sulphuric Fire Fishing Festival - Gastro Obscura
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Food Festivals

Jinshan Sulphuric Fire Fishing Festival

See Taiwan's dying art of fishing with fire.

Every year, in the midst of typhoon season, several dozen aging fishermen carry out a time-honored practice: the dazzling, more-than-a-century-old art of fire fishing. As the sun sets, the birdsong that normally fills Jinshan’s Huangguang Fishing Harbor disappears and an evening glow fills the sky. The fishermen are working fast, but they’re not racing the light.

At first glance, Huangguang looks like any harbor—the sprawl of rickety boats float in the green-blue waters, and a salty sea breeze wafts in the air. But here in the countryside of Taiwan, things are done differently. Fire fishing is a unique method used only at night in Jinshan, a small port city. The technique relies on the area’s abundant resources of sulphur. The Taiwanese fishermen use soft sulphuric rocks to create flammable gas that travels to a bamboo torch dangling off the rear of the boat. The resulting fire is so bright that it attracts thousands of silver-scaled sardines to the water’s surface. Workers spend up to 12 hours, in the dead of night, scooping up the creatures in mesh nets. 

However, the practice is now a slowly dying tradition. Fewer and fewer fishermen use these spectacular (but outdated and tiresome) methods. Local organizers are working to spread awareness of this fire-fishing culture. The result is the Jinshan Sulphuric Fire Fishing Festival, which generally runs from May to July. Depending on the year and available funding, the festival may also feature concerts or other activities. But the consistent, primary draw is nocturnal sightseeing tours that bring boats of onlookers alongside the fire-fishing boats to see the awesome spectacle up close.

Need to Know

From Taipei, the hour-plus trek to Jinshan involves rumbling by abandoned temples and brick factories on a bus, often through steep mountain passes. The tours are only in Mandarin Chinese, are weather-permitting, and take about four hours—enough time for a guided introduction to the history of Jinshan’s fishing industry, a modest dinner of noodle soup, and time on board the boat viewing the fizzling-out practice. Photography is welcome and encouraged. Information about tour times and cancellations are posted regularly on Facebook during the festival.

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