The hunters waded into the water after dark, their headlamps beaming as they tossed nets into the crashing waves over and over again.

All night, they shook muck from the nets, sorting out their prizes: wriggling, transparent baby eels, each no thicker than a vermicelli noodle. They were worth their weight in gold, or nearly. The fishermen dropped them into jars of water, which some of them hung around their necks on string.

"Sometimes it’s gold, sometimes it’s dirt,” said Dai Chia-sheng, who for a decade had spent his winters fishing for glass eels, as the baby eels are called. Brought in by the ocean currents every year, the eels had lured families like Dai’s to Taiwan’s coasts for generations.