Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Catching the `Porsche of the seas'

Tungkang is the bluefin tuna capital of the world and now, as the Pingtung Bluefin Tuna Cultural Festival gets underway, is the time to visit


A large bluefin tuna is admired after being landed in Tungkang, Pingtung County, last week.


Forget SARS. It's tuna season in Tungkang (東港), a fishing town perched on the mid-western corner of Pingtung County (屏東縣), which has an international reputation for its deep-sea bluefin tuna catch and booming restaurant business.

Far away from fears of severe acute respiratory syndrome, this southernmost county is holding the "Pingtung Bluefin Tuna Cultural Festival 2003" -- starting yesterday through to June 29 -- in the hope of enticing gourmands and tourists to sample the magnificent fish, which can grow up to 4m in length and weigh up to 500kg.

In terms of bluefin tuna catching, Taiwan leads the world and this is largely due to use of the latest technologies to catch the fish, said Chang Cheng-ping (張真萍), a Pingtung County Government official. Global positioning systems, refined baits, fishing lines and other innovations have increased the annual catch over the years -- though the tuna-catching rate of one tuna for every 10,000 fish caught, is probably the same as it was 12 years ago.

Around 50,000 people live in Tungkang, comprising Taiwanese, Hakka and Chinese. And, although the population has decreased recently, it is still one of the most important fishing harbors in the country and the epitome of a thriving fishing port. The local fishermen's association is preparing to celebrate its centennial anniversary next month and the restaurant business, in particular, is booming, thanks largely to the conscientious efforts made by the county government since 2001 to promote this annual cultural event.

Tungkang residents say there are plenty of reasons to visit their town, but they are particularly proud of what they call their "three treasures": Namely, the fine-textured bluefin tuna, the tiny and mouth-watering sergesgid shrimp (櫻花蝦), and the rarely harvested and sophisticated taste of ribbon fish eggs (油魚子).

Chang Tai-fang (張泰芳) is a local restauranteur and self-confessed gourmet in his early 40s, who has sponsored President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) state dinners in Pingtung for the past two years. He said that Discovery Channel once called bluefin tuna "the Porsche of the deep ocean" and President Chen called it "the Rolls Royce of fish meat" after tasting the fresh raw tuna slices, prepared in the Japanese sashimi style.

Tuna is extremely healthy and rich in essential fish oils such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is particularly abundant in brain and retina tissue and is good for cardiovascular health, brain and nervous system function. Even better, though, the fine taste of its rose-pink flesh melts away in your mouth, an impressive sensation which has easily won over numerous Taiwanese and Japanese gourmets over the years.

"I would not miss the taste of it for anything in the world. It is just hard to imagine the feeling of a piece of fish meat melting in your mouth like that ... it's a great feeling, almost funny," Chai Cheng-hsian (蔡增賢), a tourist at the Chang Family Restaurant (張家食堂) said.

Dubbed by locals the "Black Jug" (黑甕串) because of its shape, the bluefin tuna has an elegant, streamlined body with grayish-blue fins. It has an astonishing swimming speed of 160kmh, outpacing the quickest of its predators, and weighs between 180kg and 300kg, after roving the North Pacific Ocean for about seven years.

Lin Han-chou (林漢丑), the director of Tungkang fish market and a fisherman of nearly 30 years, said the North Pacific bluefin tuna is found from Green Island all the way up north to Ilan County (宜蘭縣), though bluefin tuna family members can also be found in the seas around Sicily, Italy. Tuna swim in the strong, warm currents of the North Pacific Ocean, or Kuroshio (黑潮), which emerge from around the equator near the Philippines and push northward a variety of fish in different seasons, past the Ryukyu and Kyushu Islands, and into the Japan Sea.

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