When an annual fishing ban is lifted in August in the village of Beijiao, eastern China, it’s a no-holds-barred race to see who can catch the most seafood.
Beijiao sits on the tip of a peninsula in Fujian Province, eastern China. For most of the year, it’s a quiet fishing village, with a population of no more than 7,000 people.
But every August, the number swells, as buyers come from all over the county come to buy seafood. That’s when an annual fishing ban is lifted, giving fishermen free license to catch as much as they can before prohibitions are reinstated in May.
Summer is open season in Beijiao.
Every morning, buyers swarm toward the pier to get their hands on the freshest catch of the day. Mayhem ensues as they plow through the selection of squid, shrimp, and eel laid out on boats docked by the pier.
There’s not a moment to waste. The market is only open for one hour.
It’s a typical scene between August and September, when people believe the best seafood can be caught. Fishermen go out in droves to harvest what they can before the supply is depleted.
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Competitive, unpredictable, and grinding is how fisherman Li Bai describes his life. He only sleeps two hours a day in order to keep pace with this cut-throat industry.
When the market closes at 8 am, he’s back out on the water searching for next day’s catch.
Despite the tough routine, Li works every day. The only thing that might stop him is a really bad storm. The work keeps him so busy that he hasn’t had time to repaint his rusty boat, battered by unpredictable waves and weather.
Li specializes in a variety of squid known locally as “little tubes.” He has to catch over 1,000 pounds every day to make his effort worthwhile.
But some days, he can’t even catch a few.
“We have no choice,” he says with a shrug. “Fishermen like us leave our fate to the heavens.”
His crew sails from around 6:30 pm until 3 the next morning searching for squid. “During open season, this work lasts for about two and a half months,” he says.
To catch squid, Li’s boat shines green fluorescent lights into the sea, which attract the critters and allows the crew to haul them up in nets. The squid shine like stars in the water.
While the crew is hard at work, Li prepares their meal in a tiny kitchen below the deck. Just a simple dish of rice, vegetables, and some of the freshly caught squid are enough to satisfy Li and his hungry crew.
As it starts to rain, Li carries on with the work at hand. He’s already anticipating the next day’s catch.