Who I am
My name is Wei-Chuan, but people called me ‘Riyar’, which means ‘ocean’ in the local language. Because I was born in a fishing village on the east coast of the island of Taiwan I love ocean life, so my classmates at primary school gave me this special name. After finishing my education in my home town in 1984, I bade farewell to my happy childhood of swimming, fishing and catching crabs in the fishing village and went to Taipei City to start a long career of studying. In 1988 I was admitted to the Pingtung Agricultural College, majoring in aquaculture. While studying, I had learned about fisheries science and it was this that inspired my interest in the aquaculture industry. In 1993 I went on to the Institute of Marine Biology of Taiwan Ocean University and began working in the fishery ecology laboratory at the Institute of Zoology, Academia Sinica. This gave me a glimpse into the mysteries of marine life, and I participated in the study of fish distribution and population ecology along the coast of Taiwan. The research provided an on-the-ground understanding of marine fisheries in eastern Taiwan. After graduating from the institute in 1995, I enlisted in the army’s Marine Corps as a second lieutenant platoon leader. Three years later I joined the PhD programme at the Oceanography Department of the National Taiwan University. My thesis topic was the population dynamics and stock assessment of the sailfish, a species that supports a rich fishery in eastern Taiwan. For my dissertation I was presented with the Dean’s Award of the Faculty of Science. Finally, I got a chance to return to work in my home town! I have always had strong feelings for the ocean and my heart is joyful when I am in or near it. In the marine sciences I discovered my own blue ocean.
Where I work
Taiwan’s east coast borders the north-western Pacific and enjoys rich fishery resources thanks to the Kuroshio Current. I work at the Eastern Marine Biology Research Center (EMBRC) of the Fisheries Research Institute of Taiwan, which is the principal institution for undertaking research and developing the island’s fisheries. It has four research departments and six research centres, of which the EMBRC is the only one located on Taiwan’s east coast. The EMBRC’s mission is to assess and monitor the current status of marine fishery resources off eastern Taiwan, to conduct tagging experiments on pelagic fish and to investigate diverse aspects of aquaculture. I lead large-scale tagging experiments that help to explain population dynamics across different countries in the north-western Pacific and provide input to regional fishery management organisations.
The EMBRC is located at the very important fishing harbour of Shinkang, which is famous for the traditional method used to harpoon large billfish whereby the harpooner, armed with a five-metre (16-foot) pole, waits on the vessel’s bow-mounted platform and strikes at a passing fish. We are pioneering tagging techniques for large pelagic fish using this harpoon fleet. To modify the harpoon for bio-logging purposes, the barbed harpoon tips have been replaced with metal tips that hold the satellite tag heads. This technique of attaching satellite tags has advantages and disadvantages compared to other tagging methods. Because pelagic fish are harpooned basking at the surface, we believe they suffer no stress or injury, unlike the damage suffered by fish that are subjected to the long periods of fishing or the excessive handling of being caught and tagged recreationally or on a longline. Moreover, pelagic fish tagged by harpoon in our study retain the tags better.
What I do
As a marine biologist focusing broadly on the biology and trophic ecology of pelagic fish, I use electronic tags and stable isotope analysis to conduct my research. In particular, my research programme investigates the population dynamics of billfish using pop-up satellite archival tags to study their vertical and horizontal movement patterns, habitat preferences, migration corridors and thermal niche. I also serve as a fisheries scientist for Taiwan in the Billfish Working Group of the North Pacific Tuna and Tuna-like International Scientific Committee and I’ve played a leading role in this collaborative effort for 20 years. Our tagging work makes up for the lack of independent fishery data in the process of establishing resource assessment models. I am also responsible for running the Ocean Conservation Agency (OCA) of the Ocean Affairs Council of Taiwan. Our mission is to ‘pay tribute to the sea’ in the nation’s Marine Ecological Environment Protection Plan. The satellite tracking of marine wildlife is particularly critical for learning about the habitats of species that are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I have pioneered collaboration with traditional harpoon fishermen and the operators of large set nets that catch a wide variety of highly migratory species. The bio-logging data that come from smart electronic tags are used by the OCA for conservation planning and public education such as the press and social media content for International Shark Day.