The Tao tribesmen who traveled more than 600km in the largest traditional wooden boat ever built said that fisheries surrounding their native Lanyu (Orchid Island, 蘭嶼) are threatened by fishing boats from Taiwan proper.
Carrying 14 people, the boat departed from the island on June 19, said Si Ankumitan, one of the first group of sailors who rowed from the Lanyu to Taitung.
A traditional Tao boat normally carries three to four people and "10 at the most," he said.
After more than 130 tribesmen took turns rowing the boat, it finally arrived in Taipei last Tuesday, completing the tribe's first 600km boat journey, trip leader Syaman Fumayen said.
`Proud and happy'
"The trip was very hard, but we're proud and happy to finally complete it," Syaman Fumayen said just after he jumped off the boat at Taipei's Dajia Riverside Park.
However, behind the Tao sailors' proud smiles, they still have their worries.
"I would like to ask all to help to preserve our wooden boat culture," Syaman Fumayen said.
The wooden boats are the Tao's tools for catching flying fish, he said.
"Flying fish are the main source of protein for us," Syaman Fumayen said. "However, the large motorized fishing boats from Taiwan [proper] pose a severe threat to our flying fish harvest."
If the marine resource becomes exhausted, the Tao wooden boat culture would gradually disappear, and when the wooden boat culture disappears, the entire Tao culture would eventually die, Syaman Fumayen said.
"It's been at least five years that we haven't had good flying fish harvests," he said, warning that the Tao would "take care of the matter in our own way if the government does nothing."
The government has tried to solve the problem, but without results.
In 2005, when former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) visited the island, he announced that motorized fishing boats that weighed more than 10 tonnes would be banned from venturing within 6 nautical miles (11km) of Lanyu.
Hsieh's announcement was followed by an official Taitung County ordinance that fines violators between NT$30,000 to NT$150,000, Wang Chiang-ho (王江河), chief of Taitung County's fishing section, told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.
Although the ban has been in effect for two years, conflicts between fishermen from Taiwan proper and those from Lanyu still occur.
"We can't really do anything about fishing boats from Hengchun (恆春) that catch flying fish in the waters surrounding Lanyu because the boats weigh less than 10 tonnes," Wang said.
As the county ordinance does not completely protect Tao waters, the Council of Indigenous People is in search of another solution to the problem.
"We've drafted an Aboriginal Land and Marine Spaces Act (
In the draft bill, the waters that fall within 6 nautical miles of the Island are designated as the Tao's traditional domain, Icyang said.
"We haven't decided on the details -- maybe we'll ban all motorized fishing boats in that area," Icyang said, adding that the draft bill is under Cabinet review at the moment.
"Hopefully we will be able to submit it to legislative review in September," he said.
People in the fishing industry in Hengchun, Pingtung County, are opposed to the draft bill.
"It will kill our flying fish industry," said Chu Pin-hsuan (朱品璇), president of the Hengchun Fishermen's Association.