Keepers of the flame: Taiwan keeps the art of fire fishing alive

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The art of fire fishing in Taiwan
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The art of fire fishing in Taiwan
Fishermen rest in front of a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Fishermen use fire to attract fish on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen light a fire to attract fish on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen light a fire to attract fish on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
A fisherman rests on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat at sunset in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen use a fire to attract fish on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
A container of scaled sardines caught by a âsulfuric fire fishing" boat are seen in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
A fisherman prepares ice for transporting scaled sardines caught on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen unload scaled sardines from a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen sail with fire to attract fish on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen light a fire to attract fish on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Clouds pass in front of a full moon in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
A âsulfuric fire fishing" boat sails in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
A boat fishes for octopus at sea in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Workers load scaled sardines onto a lorry in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
A fishing boat sails at sunset in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 
Fishermen rest on a traditional âsulfuric fire fishing" boat before sailing in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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TAIPEI, June 27 (Reuters) - Under the darkness of the night sky, a small group of Taiwan fishermen set sail off the northeast coast, light a fire on the end of a bamboo stick using chemicals and wait for the fish to come.

Like a magnet, hundreds of sardines leap out of the water towards the bright light waved by one fisherman and his colleagues angle their nets and haul in the catch.

There used to be 300 boats using the traditional fire fishing method each night but now there are only three, according to the local fishermen's association in Jinshan District, north of Taipei.

The 30 or so remaining fishermen have a three-month seasonal window from May to July where they can catch sardines using fire, a practice that dates back hundreds of years, the association says.

The fishermen spend up to six hours a night at sea to catch between three and four tons of sardines, which can earn them, on a really good night, over $4,500. Only bad weather forces them to shore early.

"My daily earnings are unstable, but for a living I need to sail," Jian Kun, a 60-year-old boat owner, tells Reuters of the fire fishermen's plight.

The government provides a subsidy to the fishermen to encourage them to continue fire fishing and also filed the technique to the Department of Cultural Affairs for registration as a cultural asset in 2014.

And the annual Jinshan Sulphuric Fire Fishing festival was started in 2013 to help promote the practice, while photography tours have been set up to generate interest and boost finances.

The method of lighting the fire has been updated to include the use of calcium carbide, but the boats are old, with little to ease the physical toll on the fishermen who average around 60 years old.

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