Recipe for successful fieldwork in Taiwanese waters

Necessary ingredients:

2 guiding hands of Dr. I.C. Liao
20+ helping hands from Taiwan Fisheries Research Institute (TFRI) staff members, especially Mr. Stephen Huang
1-3 satisfied government officials
60+ helping hands from fishermen and set net operators in Hua Lien
3-5 experienced SCUBA divers
Numerous sunfish of good size and health
1-50 press representatives to spread the word
1 or more strong blessings from Matsu

In December 2000, under the guidance of Dr. I. C.” Liao, the international team of Drs. Tierney Thys, Heidi Dewar and Hong Young Yan successfully began research to document the behavior of giant ocean sunfish in Taiwanese waters.” This project would never have been possible without the encouragement and enthusiastic support of Dr. Liao and the tireless assistance of the Taiwan Fisheries Research Institute (TFRI) staff, especially Mr. Stephen Huang.

“From the moment of landing in Taipei, we were welcomed with open arms. We became an instant team working together towards a common goal. International boundaries dissolved and we found we had not only discovered reliable and competent collaborators but also long-lasting friends.”

Our fieldwork involved a number of complications. Firstly, we met with three government officials who needed to inspect our pop-off satellite archival tags before any fieldwork could take place. Following this, we had to travel from Taipei to Hua Lien–a transit thankfully made possible by Dr. Liao’s gracious assistance.” After reaching the coast and partaking of a sumptuous feast (one of many to come) we met with local fishermen to learn of their experiences with sunfish and ask permission to sample their catch as well as tag and release several of their valued commodities. All the fishermen hold the greatest amount of respect and admiration for Dr. Liao and TFRI so our demanding task was made far simpler than could have ever been imagined.

As luck would have it, many molas had been recently caught in the set nets. We were able to procure numerous tissue samples for later genetic analysis at the fish market shortly after arriving in Hua Lien.” A true bonanza!

Early the next morning, we headed to the docks and secured the necessary permits.” Accompanied by an expert dive crew, organized by Dr. Yan beforehand and headed by Mr. Anthony Kuo, we made our way to the set nets, picking up more crew along the way. Before the day was out, we had successfully tagged our sunfish, learned an enormous amount from the fishermen and made tremendous progress towards achieving our goals.

The remainder of our trip involved flying to the other side of Taiwan and tagging a beloved baby whale shark named Junior, a sweet animal that had been hosted by the compassionate staff at the Penghu Aquarium of TFRI.” This trip revealed to us the tremendous impact Dr. Liao has had on helping to inspire conservation in the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese. The impressive Penghu Aquarium was a beautiful sight to behold.

On a second trip to Taiwan the following year, accompanied by Dr. Hong Young Yan, Dr. Thys was able to train the staff at the Penghu aquarium to deploy the satellite tags themselves. Despite his heavily loaded schedule, Dr. Liao was able to accompany us through the whole field trip. What impressed us the most was we again saw how his wide name recognition in Taiwan helped our project. For instance, the chief of Hua-Lien Fishermen Association allowed us free access to his set nets for study use and deliberately altered his operation schedule to fit our needs. The proprietor of a local diving shop refused to charge us rental fee of air tanks because of Dr. Liao paid a visit to his shop which he considered a great honor.”

As our data begins to flow in, we look forward to continued collaborations with Dr. Liao and the stream of publications still to come.” We commend him on his long and illustrious career with TRFI and extend many congratulations on a job well done! We feel extremely honored to have had the opportunity to work with him.