From forlorn to fortune, poor land yields fish gold

By Zhao Ruixue in Jinan| (China Daily)| Updated : 2023-05-31

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Chen Xuyong takes care of loaches in a breeding pond on his loach farm in Ningjin county, Shandong province. [Photo/China Daily]

Once held back by low-quality fields, village finds success by breeding loach

Once, the low-lying land around Wangshiying in Ningjin county, Shandong province, held back the village's development because of its low agricultural yields, but now that it is being used to raise fish — in this case loaches — it has helped the village emerge from poverty.

"Don't underestimate these loach fry, they have made us wealthy," Chen Xuyong, the village's Party secretary, said as he scooped a bowl of water out of a breeding pond.

Inside the ponds, thousands of tiny loaches, smaller than ants, were swarming. In the bigger ponds in front of the breeding ponds, loach released a week earlier had already grown to the size of tadpoles.

Loach flesh is rich in protein and has a low-fat content, and eating it helps reduce blood lipids and blood pressure. It is not only delicious but also has a medicinal effect, Chen said, explaining why the fish sells so well.

Last month, the village cooperative signed a contract with businessmen from South Korea to build a loach processing plant to produce products for overseas markets.

The plant is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year and will have an annual output of up to 5,000 metric tons of loach products, Chen said.

"The processing plant is expected to provide around 50 jobs and double our village's collective income," he added.

The 54-year-old has been Party secretary of the village, which is home to fewer than 300 residents, for the last 31 years.

During that time, he has been looking for a way to help residents make money. He tried raising cattle and cows, but neither worked well.

"Our village is on low-lying terrain, which means we only harvest crops once a year. Most of the young people have left to work in the city, leaving the elderly and children behind," Chen said.

To change that situation, he traveled to villages in places such as Lianyungang in Jiangsu province and Tianjin to find an alternative that would be suitable for Wangshiying.

He came across the right solution in 2016 when he decided to turn to loach farming.

But the fish were unable to adapt to the village's water and environment, and their first year was a failure. Chen invited experts to study the soil and water.

"We started over. I monitored the water quality many times a day to collect data and finally mastered the breeding techniques," he said.

Chen and the villagers transformed a former brick factory into an experimental loach farm in 2017. A year later, they expanded.

Last year, the village collectively earned 520,000 yuan ($73,744) from loach farming, proof that aquaculture can work well in low-lying villages, he said.

Now an expert in loach farming, he has developed an automated feeding system that saves on feed and labor and reduces water pollution.

He has also set up a training school in the village and invited experts to give free lectures, and he has visited 50 neighboring villages to show farmers how to use idle ponds to farm loaches.

Currently, 16 of the 50 villages in the area are farming the fish.

Chen Haitao, who lives in Wangshiying, said he earns a salary of about 5,000 yuan from working at the loach farms.

Two years ago, everyone in the village moved into two-story villas, and their new residential community also has parks, squares and a service center.