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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Puffer Perils (3)

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

11:15, April 15, 2012

Legally, at least, no institution in Jiangsu is permitted to certify fugu chefs, says Peng Dongsheng, deputy chairman of the Jiangsu Cuisine Association.

The central government still considers fugu eating too much of a risk and has officially banned it from "entering the market" in the 1990-issued "arrangement on fisheries hygiene and safety". That same rule was later emphasized in several other national regulations and warnings.

In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, restaurants found selling fugu will immediately receive a fine or even have their business licenses suspended.

But in Jiangsu, where eating fugu is still a traditional seasonal highlight, the hygiene department has sort of "turned a blind eye", says Qiu from Yangzhou.

With its local popularity and an influx of curious diners from all across the country, the province now consumes nearly 10,000 metric tons of fugu each year according to Peng from Jiangsu Cuisine Association. What makes it different is that fugu on the market today are mainly farm-raised.

Even the wild blowfish has fallen victim to rapid industrialization up and down the Yangtze with its growing number of ports and harbors, Qiu says.

The tidal flats and sandbanks along the lower reaches of the Yangtze - the natural spawning grounds for the blowfish - are also fast disappearing.

True gourmets lament the shrinking harvests of wild fugu. It has grown so rare that a total catch of about 100 wild fishes is already considered a surprisingly good catch. This has pushed the price of wild fugu to more than 20,000 yuan ($3,180) per kilogram.

This has prompted the rise of fugu farming in the province.

At least a few cities in Jiangsu, including Yangzhong and Hai'an, have made fugu farming a star industry.

In Yangzhong, an island city in the middle of the Yangtze River, the government has spent 50 million yuan establishing 20 fugu-rearing facilities. The city produces more than 1,000 metric tons of fugu a year, spawning a 10 million yuan industry.

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