Shandong Fish Life
A photo-essay about the small-scale fishing industry in Shandong province, eastern China.
In 2010, China accounted for 60% of global aquaculture production. In the West we know Japan for its fish-based cuisine, but fish is also central to Chinese cooking, especially in parts of Eastern China where my family has its ‘old home’.
In May 2016 I visited two fishing communities in Shandong province in an attempt to reconcile my own inexplicable adoration of fish – both as animal and food – with the land in which I spent the earliest three years of life, which until recently I had struggled to recall.
The photographs in this series were taken at a fish market at Ma Tou (‘port head’) in Weihai – a British-leased territory previously known as Port Edward – and Ya Tou Zhen (‘end of the cliff town’) in Rongcheng city. Both cities are in Shandong province, known for its fish culture and friendliness. It is the closest part of China to Korea, and the Shandong peninsula is surrounded by the Yellow Sea.
Over the past three decades, the number of people who work in China’s fishing industry has increased by more than 10 million. Based on official statistics, net annual income of the fishermen increased 140 times from 1978 to 2013, resulting in fishing becoming a significantly more lucrative trade than farming. This income difference is one of the reasons that workers from China’s inland provinces are attracted to the fishing industry.
In Ya Tou Zhen, we visit a private oyster farm. In one method of cultivating oysters, a substrate is required onto which the oyster can attach as a 'spat' and subsequently grow. In Ya Tou Zhen, the substrate is old clam shells.
Local women work in a makeshift pavilion where they thread the shells onto pieces of rope. Around 400,000 people - many young women - are estimated to work in China's fish-processing sector and many of them are concentrated in the Shandong area.
The rope is gripped by two pieces of wood that have been cut to its shape. Each of the clam shells has many holes through which the rope can be threaded. The oyster farms themselves are tended by fishermen about 500m away from the dock.
Every morning there is a fish market at Ma Tou. The fishermen go out on their boats in the middle of the night around 3am, and come back in time for the market at breakfast.
Amongst the fish that can be spotted for sale is the infamous fugu (河豚 in Chinese) otherwise known as pufferfish. Fugu is known for being incredibly poisonous and in Japan requires a licence to be prepared and served.