Rid­ers on the waves: China’s jel­ly­fish-haul­ing mules a dy­ing breed

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

XIANRENDAO, China: With a crack of his whip, Qin Yusheng drives his mules through the ocean surf off the Chi­nese coast, la­bor­ing to bring in the day’s catch. For decades, equinepow­ered carts have trun­dled through the shal­low wa­ters off the penin­sula near Xianrendao to meet shal­low-keeled trawlers piled high with jel­ly­fish, which teem in the wa­ters of the Yel­low Sea. Now Qin, 55, and his last two mules are ready to re­tire, as the area’s tra­di­tional way of life slides into his­tory. Not long ago, Qin and his team of horses and mules spent 12 hours a day shut­tling back and forth be­tween the fish­ing boats and the shore.

Fish­er­men emp­tied their slip­pery catch into dozens of horse carts, which hauled them through the knee deep wa­ters to pro­cess­ing sheds. Now, the ves­sels pull up to a new con­crete pier, where they off­load their prod­uct di­rectly into wait­ing lor­ries. There is “not much need” for the an­i­mal-drawn carts any more, said Qin, who now helps shift haul smaller catches, like crabs caught in the shal­lows. “I have no choice but to re­tire.” Wang Fenghu, 55, who used to have a team of horses un­til he quit to open a small gro­cery store, ex­plained: “A cou­ple of trucks can carry be­tween 2,000 and 2,500 kilos. “There used to be 40 or 50 horses graz­ing on the lawn here,” he said with a wave to the vil­lage green. Wang sold his four horses a lit­tle over a decade ago to farm­ers in the nearby hills. “I haven’t sold my cart, yet,” he added. But “now it’s only good for fire­wood”.

Oil and co­rian­der

Jel­ly­fish is a pop­u­lar in­gre­di­ent in Chi­nese cook­ing, and the largest plant in Xianrendao, in the north­east­ern prov­ince of Liaon­ing, pro­cesses around 5 mil­lion kilo­grams a year. Dur­ing the high sea­son, mi­grant work­ers spend 13 hours a day in the fac­to­ries, large open sheds with cor­ru­gated roofs, sep­a­rat­ing jel­ly­fish heads from their bod­ies. Men and women in tall rub­ber boots and gloves shovel a mix­ture of salt and alum into gi­ant con­crete tanks, where the jel­ly­fish soak for a week. The process makes their skin thin and easy to slice. The fin­ished prod­uct is ex­ported to Ja­pan, Korea and ci­ties across China, where it is of­ten mixed with oil and co­rian­der to make a cold, crunchy salad.

Busi­ness is good, ac­cord­ing to lo­cals, but the catches have be­come smaller and smaller ev­ery year. “There are fewer jel­ly­fish, but the price is higher,” Qin said. Lo­cals blame a chem­i­cal plant near the vil­lage. “When the wind blows, you can smell the odor,” Qin said. “It also dumps waste water into the ocean. That’s bad for sea crea­tures.” Qin is one of only a hand­ful of vil­lagers who still rely on their an­i­mals to make a liv­ing. “I try do as many runs as I can, but I’m not as young as I used to be,” he said, adding that if his mules were not docile, he was “com­pletely ex­hausted by the end of the day”. “We’re go­ing to sell them next year,” Qin said, ei­ther to farm­ers or a slaugh­ter­house. “We’re sorry to let them go, but we have no choice.” —AP

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