In 2010, Li Liguo achieved a tremendous breakthrough on artificial breeding at his lugworm farm in Hainan, China. He has a wealth of experience when it comes to lugworm farming.
Illustrator/Writer: Lin Xiaobin
Li Liguo is a Hong Kong businessmen who has run lugworm (also known by its Latin name: nereis succinea) farms for close to three decades. In the 1980s, his company, Leu Capital Enterprise Limited, was the first private enterprise to successfully challenge South Korea’s monopoly in the Japanese market. It was also the first domestic enterprise in China that invested in the lugworm business. By the early 1990s, Korea’s supply of lugworms dwindled and the country became a net importer of lugworms. Seizing the market opportunity, Li Liguo was one of the first to export Chinese lugworms to Korea. The export business expanded to Europe and previously undeveloped markets like Taiwan and Hong Kong where lugworms became popular as bait or feed. To resolve the problem of a decline in domestic supply, Li Liguo started farming lugworms ten years ago. In 2009, Mr. Li took over a deserted abalone farm in Lingshui, Hainan. It was there where he had a breakthrough in artificial breeding.
FAM: What was the process like for you to succeed in artificial breeding?
Li Liguo: We encountered many roadblocks along the way. We tried soilless farming (hydroponics) at the start, but it failed and so we switched to soil farming. However, the soil we had initially was too acidic for breeding. We had to adjust the soil pH from the original pH 4.0-5.0 range to a higher pH level of 6.0-7.0. It was a gradual process before we achieved today’s success.
At present we have two rented farms in Hainan, one in the Lingshui Li’an Town and another in Yinggehai Town, Ledong Li Autonomous County. We started the farm at Lingshui Li’an Town since June 2008 because of its superior geographical location: it’s next to the sea, has clean water as well as suitable salinity and pH levels. Since our breakthrough in 2010, the production from both farms can add up to about 40 tonnes and we expect a bumper harvest this year with more than 50 tonnes.
Our current lugworms are the third generation we have bred. Two years ago, we raised our first generation of farmed lugworms from the larvae of wild lugworms. Just last year, we successfully multiplied the number of larvae to meet the production demands of our farms. That was the second generation of our farm-bred lugworms, which makes our current batch the third generation.
The Need for Industrialised Farming
The dwindling supply of wild lugworms has caused the industry to step up its pace to find alternatives to lugworms as bait or feed. Some breeders have started to use artificial feed to replace lugworms. According to Lin Qinsan, the representative for Taiwan’s Hongguo Industrial Co., Ltd. in mainland China, “the current alternative is still in its infancy and it is still inferior to lugworms, which is why our prawns are only fed the artificial feed in the morning.”
Because lugworms are more nutritious, Lin Qinsan says that prawns fed with lugworms tend to mature faster. This is also why there hasn’t been a good substitute for lugworms. “Our research data shows that we would require less substitute feed compared to the quantity of lugworms or blood worms: a tenth of the quantity of lugworms (because most of it is water content) or an eighth of the quantity of blood worms.” However, he adds that switching to the artificial feed would cause the prawn larvae production to drop by half.
Since the current artificial feed isn’t a perfect substitute for lugworms, Li Liguo is of the view that lugworm farming is the best solution. Chen Liang, General Manager, GLOBAL GROUP’s Shenzhen subsidiary, agrees, “Our data points to a widespread shortage of lugworm supply starting from next year.” He believes that there are two possible ways forward: sustainable farming of live lugworms or the option to use frozen lugworms.
Chen Liang says that GLOBAL GROUP has started trying farm-bred lugworms since 2010. Starting from 2011, it no longer uses wild lugworms from unknown sources. He explains that GLOBAL GROUP did not want to run the risk of introducing hazards to their prawns. “Based on our current observations, there are many merits to farm-bred lugworms: you have control over the environment without sacrificing on the quality of the lugworms in terms of the meat density and nutritional value.”