Saving the Sea

Wang Ming-hsiang and His Squid Birthing Suites
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2019 / November

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Wang Ming-hsiang /tr. by Phil Newell


While many people make a living from the sea, there are few who speak out on its behalf. Many people know how to exploit the sea, but don’t understand the problems of overfishing and marine trash that are making the once beauti­ful oceans a scene of devastation. Wang Ming-hsiang loves the sea with a passion. He is both fisherman and diving instructor, but also a great spokesperson for the sea. He advocates for marine conservation without counting the cost to himself, giving as selflessly as the ocean that nurtured him growing up.


We previously saw Wang Ming-hsiang one weekend at the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung. The sky was overcast and it was drizzling, but this did not dampen the museum visitors’ interest, as Wang led a large group of adults and children in an activity in a partly covered outdoor space. They cut bushy makino bamboo into suitable lengths, and bound the pieces into fanlike bundles using special knots, forming them into the shape of gorgonian corals to create “birthing suites” for bigfin reef squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana).

Museum staff introduced Wang to the crowd as “Coach Piston” and “the grandfather of bigfin reef squid.” Although Wang is still in his early 50s, thanks to his dedicated efforts toward the recovery of bigfin reef squid populations over the past 12 years, this squid with a lifespan of less than a year now has an undisturbed habitat in the seas off northeastern Taiwan where it can live and reproduce free from human interference.

Having gone from being called “the father of bigfin reef squid” to their “elder uncle” and then their “grandfather,” Wang Ming-hsiang says that by now he should be called the squids’ “great-grandfather.”

A man who loves the sea

When Wang talks about the sea, his eyes light up and his voice becomes passionate. Born and raised in Keelung, he grew up gazing out at fishing boats on the ocean horizon. And he never heeded his elders’ admoni­tions to “stay away from the seashore, it’s dangerous.”

“Whenever I was feeling down, all I had to do was come down to the shore and I would feel especially happy.” When he was grown up, he got his own boat, and progressed from small boats to large, owning five at one time at his peak. He also acquired a professional scuba diving license. Right now, his main areas of work are leading tourists on diving and fishing trips, and assisting with marine ecological surveys.

Wang, who could rightfully be called a middle-aged “slash person,” has yet another important identity: dis­aster responder. He has been involved in rescue and disaster response work for over 20 years, and has been at many scenes of destruction where life and death hang in the balance. He has been a first responder for Typhoon Xangsane, Typhoon Morakot, and two crashes of Trans­Asia Airways flights.

Wang also goes by the nickname “Piston.” This is because first responders have a taboo against calling their brethren directly by their names at disaster sites. Wang’s family operates a motorcycle shop that customizes bikes, so he chose the name of an engine part as his moniker, and it has followed him to the present day.

Because he has witnessed a great deal of death and under­stands that life is uncertain, Wang’s worldview is particu­larly open-minded and generous. He has so far spent over NT$1 million on marine conservation work, but he doesn’t mind: “I do whatever I can. When I’m doing it I don’t think about how much money I’m spending. What matters is how much I can contribute to society and the ocean while I’m alive,” he says in his plainspoken way.

Awakening environmental consciousness

Most people who made their living from the sea in the past remember the notion that “the sea is our refriger­ator.” If people wanted some extra food on a given night, they would just go down to the sea and catch fish or gather shellfish, and Wang Ming-hsiang was no exception. But as the environment has deterior­ated, the sea that once offered such rich resources is no longer the same.

Twelve years ago, Wang was asked by fishermen to assist another diving instructor, Guo Daoren, in placing bamboo “sea fan corals” in the sea around the Badouzi area of Keelung. Due to habitat degradation, bigfin reef squid could only spawn among sea trash and discarded fishing nets. The bamboo fans created “five-star birthing suites” for the squid, greatly enhancing the chances of their eggs hatching.

Thereafter Wang continued steadfastly with this work. Each year during the bigfin reef squid’s spawning season from April to October, he devotes himself to his task without fail, regardless of whether there is any outside financial backing, or whether other people join in, or even notice him.

Conservation zone

Recreating the squids’ spawning habitat was only the first step in Wang’s conservation efforts. One day Wang discovered that the places he had placed the bamboo fans had become paradises for anglers. “Even a novice can surely catch squid here.” As word of this bounty got around, although the numbers of bigfin reef squid soared, it was still rare to find a large one.

For this reason, Wang did his best to convince ­anglers not to fish in these places, while also calling on the government to quickly pass legislation to ban the catch and sale of bigfin reef squid smaller than 15 centi­meters. Wang thought to himself: “There is legislation to protect crabs, and bigfin reef squid are scarcer than crabs, so why should it be impossible?” But for a long time he couldn’t get a response from the government.

Yet Wang did not give up, but ultimately changed his strategy, proposing instead that the coastal waters should be designated a protected area, in hopes of giving the bigfin reef squid an environment where they can mature without interference. This idea won the support of scholars and government officials, and in 2016 the creation of the “Wanghaixiang Chaojing Bay Resource Conservation Area” was announced, a first in the Keelung area.

Besides promoting the establishment of the conservation area, Wang also mobilized his diving friends to clear away discarded fishing nets from the seafloor in inshore waters. They removed these notorious “walls of death” so that fish of all sizes, as well as shrimp and crabs, would no longer be caught up in these nets and die.

Some fishermen derided Wang’s efforts, saying things like, “If no-one cracks down on fishermen who use drift gill nets, what’s the point of designating some so-called conservation area?” In the face of such remarks, the straightforward Wang took a boat out to sea to work with the coastguard to catch fishing boats illeg­ally using drift gill nets. In addition to calling for strict enforce­ment and heavy fines as a deterrent, Wang urged the Keelung City Government to establish a registration system for drift gill nets, to encourage each and every fishing boat to manage its fishing gear responsibly. These measures finally persuaded many law-abiding fishermen who had long been angry about drift gill net fishing but hadn’t dared to speak out that Wang was “playing for real,” and they gave him their full support.

Wang’s ultimate vision is to expand the conservation area to include all of Fanzai’ao Bay (aka Wanghaixiang Bay). Although fishermen would no longer be able to fish in this area, they could follow the example of Fang­yuan Township in Changhua County, where the local tradition of harvesting oysters from the sea by oxcart has become a resource for developing tourism. For example, they could make a living by using their fishing boats to take tourists out for marine activities.

Wang Ming-hsiang, who loves the sea so deeply, hopes to get more people to understand that the sea’s beauty deserves to be protected by us all.

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為大海請命

王銘祥打造軟絲產房

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧王銘祥

靠海維生的人多,但為海發聲的人卻少。許多人只知「討海」,但卻不知濫捕濫撈、海漂垃圾,早已讓理應美麗的大海滿目瘡痍。

愛海如癡的王銘祥是漁民,也是潛水教練,更是大海的最佳代言人,他傾盡一己之力,不計代價投入海洋保育倡議,好似哺育著他長大的這片汪洋,同樣無私付出。


曾經在假日的基隆海科館見過王銘祥,那是個陰雨綿綿的天氣,遠道而來的遊人不減興致,就在半露天的戶外,王銘祥領著參加活動的一大群大人小孩,將蓬蓬的桂竹叢裁切成合適的長度,再以特殊的雙人結將竹枝一根根編織成扇形,模擬成柳珊瑚的造型,打造成「軟絲的產房」。

一旁協助的海科館工作人員,向民眾介紹他叫「活塞教練」,又叫「軟絲爺爺」,雖然王銘祥年紀不過50出頭,因為投入軟絲復育工作已經有12年,一年生的軟絲因此在東北角海域有了一片不受人為干擾的棲地,得以活命、代代相傳。

因此,一路從「軟絲爸爸」、「軟絲阿伯」、「軟絲阿公」到現在,王銘祥說,按照輩分論,該稱他「太公祖」啦。

愛海的男子漢

談起大海,王銘祥總是兩眼放光,滿腔熱情。基隆出身長大的他,從小看著海平線上的漁船來來去去,成長過程裡老是被長輩告誡:「海邊危險不要去。」愛海的他不聽警告,戲水回家後少不了一陣痛打,仍舊屢犯不聽。

「心情不好只要來到海邊,就會特別開心。」這樣的他長大以後,也有了自己的船,從小船玩到大船,最高紀錄同時擁有五艘,也獲得專業潛水執照,現在的他,主要工作就是帶著遊客從事潛水、海釣,或者協助海洋生態調查。

完全稱得上是「斜槓中年」的王銘祥,另一個重要身分是救難人員,參與支援救難工作超過20年,出入過許多滿目瘡痍的生死場,象神颱風、八八風災、復興航空空難,他都曾在第一現場支援。

又被喚作「活塞」的他,原來就是因著救災現場,救難兄弟忌諱直呼本名,加上家中同時經營機車行,也從事機車改裝,他索性以零件「活塞」作為代稱,就這麼跟著他一路至今。

因為看多了生離死別,了解到生命無常,王銘祥的人生觀格外豁達,投入海洋保育工作,至今花費超過百萬,他不以為意,「能做多少,就去做,做的時候也不去想會花多少錢,最重要的是,活著的時候可以對社會、對海洋做出多少貢獻。」他乾脆地說。

海洋浩劫,喚醒環保意識

靠海生活的人,多有著「大海就是我們家的冰箱」的記憶,今晚要加菜,那就到海邊抓魚拾貝,王銘祥也不例外。但隨著生態環境的惡化,過去資源豐富的海域,早已今非昔比。

當魚越釣越少,疑惑的他潛水下去一探究竟,才發現過去還有龍蝦棲息的海域,如今卻充滿了不分國界的垃圾,甚至滿佈著被隨意丟棄的廢網,也因此喚醒了他的環保意識,成為潛水教練後,每每帶遊客潛水,要求客人先下海撿垃圾,撿完後才帶到景點遊覽。

12年以前,在漁民的邀請下,他協助幫忙在八斗子一帶放置竹叢。東北角雖是台灣軟絲最主要的產地,但因著自然環境被破壞,只能在海廢垃圾、漁網上產卵,他們為軟絲建造「人工的六星級產房」,希望藉此提升孵化率。

自此以後,王銘祥義無反顧地投入,每年的四到十月軟絲的產卵期,不管有沒有外來經費的奧援,或者是不是有人參與、關注,就這麼連年不輟地投入至今。

雖然起始時,政府單位因為認定竹叢算是人工魚礁的一種,投擲必需要申請核准,因此相當反對,但在海科館助理研究員陳麗淑等專家學者的大力支持下,加上逐年紀錄追蹤,證實方法確實有效,官方的態度才轉為支持。

談起海底見聞,王銘祥總是眉飛色舞,「我媽總是說,要是唸書有這麼認真,早就拿博士了啦。」見過竹叢上萬顆卵串的壯觀,也見證過小軟絲出生的動人瞬間,甚至曾被200隻軟絲所包圍環繞的他,回憶點滴於心,就是投入保育行動千金不換的回饋。

劃保育區,留給「小的」一條生路

打造人工產房只是保育行動的起點。某一天王銘祥發現,竹叢投放的地點,居然成了釣客的天堂,「再不會釣的,在這邊都一定釣得到。」在口耳相傳之下,小軟絲的數量雖然大幅增加,大隻的軟絲依舊罕見。

但軟絲的壽命不過短短一年,「等同於四天就是人的一歲。」王銘祥解釋,吃得多、長得快的軟絲,只要有時間讓牠們長大,半年就重達兩斤,不僅讓物種得以延續繁衍,經濟價值也提高了。

為此,他對釣客苦口婆心地勸說,一面呼籲政府應盡速立法,希望禁止採捕販售15公分以下的小軟絲,「螃蟹都可以立法了,軟絲的數量甚至比螃蟹還更少,為什麼不行?」王銘祥這樣想,但卻遲遲得不到回應。

鍥而不捨的他最後轉彎,改由提案希望將鄰近海域劃定為保育區,希望能留給小軟絲一個無憂長大的環境,終於得到官員、學者的支持,在2016年拍板定案,宣告成立「望海巷潮境海灣資源保育區」,也開了基隆地區的先例。

這樣的改變,免不了引發在地漁民的抗議:「把我們家的冰箱關了,我們要上哪邊抓魚?」「過去天天在這邊討海,為什麼以前可以,現在就不行?」雖然反對的聲浪不少,但王銘祥依舊堅持著自己的初衷:「海不應該只屬於漁民,也是大家的。」他說明,台灣解嚴不過32年,在解嚴以前,確實整個海域都專屬於漁民,民眾連碼頭都禁止進入,更遑論下海,漁民會有著這樣的想法,也是情有可原,但隨著時代演進,觀念應該改變。

除了推動成立保育區,王銘祥也多管齊下,集眾人之力,將近海一帶海底的廢棄漁網撿拾乾淨,讓這些惡名昭彰的「死亡之牆」,不再將大魚小魚、蝦兵蟹將一網打盡。

也曾因著有漁民奚落他:「偷放流刺網的不抓,再劃什麼保育區也沒用。」衝著這句話,真性情的他駕船出海,協助海巡兄弟一同追捕偷放流刺網的不法漁船,直到殺雞儆猴地施以重罰;嚴加取締以外,同時敦促基隆市政府制定刺網實名制,落實每艘漁船在漁具管理的責任,種種作為,終於讓許多守法、對流刺網總是敢怒不敢言的漁民,了解到他「來真的」的決心,繼而刮目相看,轉為相挺。

「以前看到竹叢上生很多蛋,我很開心,現在生很多蛋,我不開心。」因著保育成果漸顯,海洋生態恢復,現在的軟絲可以在自然環境中產卵,自然也就不再像以前那樣仰賴人工竹叢礁。

但王銘祥念茲在茲的最終願景,是希望擴大保育區範圍,將整片望海巷灣(又稱番仔澳灣)都劃入。雖然漁民不能再在此進行採捕,但可以仿效如彰化芳苑「海牛採蚵」的做法,將獨特的在地文化轉化為發展休閒產業的資源,漁民可以利用原有的漁船載遊客出海作水上活動,藉此營生。

這片令他戀戀不忘的海洋,他想藉此讓更多人了解,這得來不易的美麗,值得你我一同來守護。

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