Sun, Nov 07, 2004 - Page 17 News List

A bright future for Taiwan's koi

The Koi fish farming industry in Taiwan has developed to the point where it is challenging the Japanese

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

The brightly-colored koi fish that can be found swimming in many fresh-water ponds and park lakes, hotel gardens or shopping center pools is not a naturally occurring species. Called nishikigoi in Japan, where it is the national fish, it has been selectively bred from the common carp for over 160 years.

It is believed the common carp was introduced from Asia Minor (a broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas) to China before being exported to Japan from China during the Tang or Song dynasty. Between 1804 and 1829, Japanese living in the mountainous area of Niigata Prefecture (新潟縣), in Honshu (本州), first successfully bred koi.

It wasn't until 1948, however, when the Kinginrin koi (金銀鱗) -- with its bright golden or silver-colored scales -- was developed and the breeding of koi became a serious business. The eye-catching Kinginrin reflects light in the water and when it is combined with other koi it produces marvelous new strains.

The Niigata area gradually established itself as the international center for koi breeding in Japan, but it was shaken recently by a disastrous earthquake last month that registered as seven on the Richter scale, followed by a series of lesser quakes. These temblors have inflicted heavy damage on the koi industry, which may take many years to recuperate.

A koi can live as long as humans and can reach a length of up to 40cm in its first year. Thereafter, it can grow an average of 10cm per year, up to its third year, when the koi matures and can achieve lengths of up to 80cm. Koi are omnivorous and breed during the months from February to June each year in Taiwan. Each female koi can lay as many as 200,000 eggs. Of these, less than 10 may be selected for future cultivation at a koi farm.

A high-quality mature koi from a respected breeder can fetch more than NT$1 million in Taiwan. The price for a mid-sized two-year-old Koi with a length of between 40cm and 50cm can vary in price from several thousand to NT$20,000.

An "average" quality koi can be bought for a few thousand NT dollars.

Chan Ming-te (陳明德) is a retired businessman and koi-lover who has 300 of the fish in his backyard in Yilan. He has a high opinion of the fish. "The koi is smart enough to recognize the owner's footsteps, as any breeder knows, and they will surface by the edge of the pond to wait for him. On hot summer days, I tend to doze off by the pond, in the shade, after feeding them in the afternoon because the experience is so relaxing and pleasurable." He feeds his fish five times a day.

In contrast to Japan, Taiwan's koi breeding industry is relatively young. Lien Fwu-jinn (連服進) is one of the local

pioneers of koi breeding and he has made many trips to Japan, beginning in the 1970s, to learn from the Japanese. Lien has teamed up with his son son Lien Chun-chieh (連俊傑) to run two koi farms in Taipei County.

"Koi in Taiwan used to be a symbol of wealth and were kept only by rich and powerful families. Koi are now very common and easy to breed, due to technological advances, given suitable weather conditions. For one thing, we do not have to worry about below-zero temperatures like our Japanese counterparts," Lien said.

With such an advantage, it is cheaper and less troublesome for the Taiwanese to cultivate koi, often in their backyard ponds.

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