Last Sunday, the rain held off just long enough for E and I to drive to Donggang. There we had the opportunity to experience the popular Donggang Bluefin Tuna Festival.
The festival is not a carnival type festival we are used to in America. Rather, it is a special time of year. From the beginning of May until the end of June, Taiwanese fishermen haul in massive bluefin tuna from the waters around Taiwan. During these two months, Pacific Bluefin Tuna migrate to the Bashi Channel off the southern tip of Taiwan in order to spawn.
The tuna catch in Taiwan is much higher than in other Asian countries, although it has steadily declined. Last year, Taiwanese fisherman sold just over 700 bluefin tuna (down from thousands in previous years). Because of the quality and quantity of fish brought into Donggang, much of it is exported. Japan is by far the largest importer of Taiwanese bluefin tuna.
Due to a declining fish population and the imposition of catch limits in Taiwan, the price of bluefin tuna has skyrocketed in recent years. This year, the first two fish to be sold in Donggang weighed 299kg and 280kg. Together, they fetched an astounding NT $2.8888 million at auction. These auctions take place daily and are part of the fun of the Donggang Bluefin Tuna Festival.
While this festival can be quite controversial (as I will discuss later), the Pingtung County government maintains that the main point of the festival is not to encourage the consumption of bluefin tuna. Rather, the county hopes the festival will bring more visitors to Donggang and the county in general. In addition, proceeds from the festival are donated to local charities benefiting childhood education and food for the poor.
There are two locations at which you can enjoy the festivities and gorge yourself on fresh seafood.
1. Donggang Fish Market
The Donggang Fish Market is where the magic happens. Every morning at 6 AM the daily catch starts to arrive. It is unloaded by crane at this dockside market. We are told that the average daily catch of bluefin tuna has been between 12 and 20 this year. Of course other fish are unloaded as well. These include yellow fin tuna, bump heads, and sharks. Consumers can purchase bluefin tuna to eat on the spot or take home at one of the many vendors set up in the front of the market. Sashimi is the preferred method of preparation. Beware, one catty, or 600 grams, of choice bluefin tuna meat will cost you about NT $2200, or $73USD.
To reach the Donggang Fish Market, follow the signs to the Xiao Leo Chiu ferry pier. Pass the pier and head toward what looks like the entrance to a paid parking lot. Past this pay station on the left, you will see the docks and the market.
2. Huaqiao Market
Huaqiao Market is another nearby option for getting your bluefin tuna fix. This market is open from about 2pm until 7pm daily. Here, you can purchase a wide variety of seafood in addition to tuna, including other Donggang specialties like Sakura prawns and oil fish. Most vendors sell raw seafood to be taken home and cooked. However, there are booths that sell prepared dishes and even booths that will cook up seafood you have purchased elsewhere in the market. Along the back of the market building are a number of restaurants with extensive menus featuring tables along the waterfront.
To reach Huaqiao Market, follow the signs to the Xiao Leo Chiu ferry pier. The market is immediately on the right once you have passed the ferry pier.
Proceed with Caution
1. Mercury Poisoning
Because of its position near the top of the food chain, bluefin tuna often contains high levels of mercury. The consumption of mercury has been linked to infertility, heart disease, memory loss, vision loss, and tremors. In children, it can be especially detrimental to the development of the brain, causing learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, deafness, and blindness. Therefore, the consumption of bluefin tuna should be limited. Children and women of child-bearing age should avoid consumption of the fish altogether.
Overfishing of Pacific Bluefin Tuna is a rampant problem. The species’ population has decline over 96.4% over the last 60 years, making Pacific Bluefin Tuna an endangered species and driving up the market value of the fish. Greedy fisherman who can live a lifetime off of a few tuna and fisheries that catch tuna that have not reproduced exacerbate this problem. Although Taiwan has made efforts to limit the number of vessels and the method used to catch the fish, many experts agree that Pacific Bluefin Tuna should not be fished or consumed until the population begins to grow.
Shark finning is one of the major threats to our oceans. Every year between 80 and 100 million sharks are killed for the consumption of their tasteless fins by Asian markets. Most of the time, the shark’s meat is not consumed. Rather the shark is thrown back to sea without its fins and left to die. Unfortunately, sharks are at the top of the food chain and are slow to reproduce. If humans continue to kill sharks at this rate, many species could go extinct in only 10 to 20 years, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. What does this have to do with Donggang? Unfortunately, fishermen in Donggang continue to sell hundreds of shark fins a day. A visit to the fishing port will surely bring a glimpse of piles of shark fins being weighed for market.
Elsewhere in Donggang
1. Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area
Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area encompasses a lagoon that lies just south of Donggang. Here one can enjoy watching a motor race, boating, and cycling around the wetland area. The newly developed area is constantly improving with new hotels and activities being added every year.
2. Ferry to Xiao Liu Chiu
Donggang also holds the dock for ferries departing to the small coral island of Xiao Liu Chiu. After a 30 minute boat ride, you can be snorkeling, scuba diving, or eating fresh seafood at this tropical getaway. Alternatively, rent a scooter and drive the 7 kilometers around the island, exploring the rock formations and caves along the way. Whatever you do, Xiao Liu Chiu is regarded as one of the most underrated destinations of southern Taiwan.
Donggang is home to many rather interesting temples. These include the Donglong temple where the deity Wen-wang-ye is enshrined. This temple plays host to the massively popular, triennial King Boat Ceremony. The gate in front of the temple is particularly resplendent as it is decorated with real gold foils. If you are in Donggang, it is worth your time to seek out this temple along with the others around it.
How to Get There
1. By public transportation: From Zuoying THSR Station, board the Zhongnan bus toward Kenting. Alight in Donggang. From Kaohsiung Main Station or Kaohsiung International Airport, board the Zhongnan bus or the Kaohsiung bus headed for Kenting. Alight in Donggang. From Pingtung Railway Station, board the Pingtung bus to Donggang.
2. By scooter: From Kaohsiung, drive south on Jhongshan Rd. until it becomes Highway 17. Continue for approximately 40 minutes. Turn right on County Highway 187 to enter Donggang.
3. By car: Take National Highway 1 south to the Wujia System Interchange. Take the Provincial Highway 88 exit. Then exit the 88 onto Provincial Highway 27 at the Wangdan Interchange. At the end of the 27, merge onto Provincial Highway 17. Turn right onto County Highway 187 to enter Donggang.