Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Tan Hou weathers storms to raise ‘clean’ farmed fish

SEA CHANGEAfter being diagnosed with bowel cancer, Liu Tien-ho made some lifestyle choices that led him to open a pisciculture venture focusing on quality, not profit

By Yang Ya-min and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tan Hou Ocean Development Co chairman Liu Tien-ho holds a fish at the company’s fish farm in Penghu County on Jan. 24. Liu has vowed to breed the healthiest fish in Taiwan after beating cancer many years ago.

Photo: Yang Ya-ming, Taipei Times

Having weathered three separate natural disasters that cost Tan Hou Ocean Development Co hundreds of millions of New Taiwan dollars, company owner Liu Tien-ho (劉天和) remains steadfast in his resolve to provide uncontaminated fish.

Liu said he had not always been involved in aquaculture, but made his fortune in 1982 making exhaust piping for semiconductor factories.

Liu said he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 1998 at the age of 48, and it was the catalyst for his career change.

After eight surgeries Liu said the only protein he was able to eat came from easily digestible fish, but he had been unable to find a source he felt comfortable eating, so he decided to farm “clean” fish.

After consulting with the Fisheries Research Institute and National Taiwan Ocean University experts, Liu opened his fish farm near Penghu (澎湖) in 2003, which had the cleanest water.

The fish are not given antibiotics and their tanks are cleaned with fresh water on a weekly basis, he said.

“We raise our fish in the most natural way possible, which drastically lowers success rates,” Liu said, adding that it is common for an entire batch to die and it is rare for the farm to have a survival rate of more than 80 percent.

At first, Liu focused on farming black king fish, amber jack and Queensland grouper, he said, adding that the company sold its first fish in 2005.

However, the farm was hit by a typhoon in April 2007, which saw all the farmed fish dumped into Magong Township (馬公) harbor.

“Anglers had a field day while my heart bled at the loss,” Liu said.

Despite efforts to rebuild the farm, the area was hit by cold fronts in 2008 and 2010, Liu said, adding that the disasters cost him NT$500 million (US$16.63 million).

The losses reflect the hardship of making a living from the sea, Liu said, adding that he has learned his lesson and adjusted his strategy.

The longer the fish are kept out at sea, the greater the risk of not being able to sell them, which also places heavy pressure on finances, Liu said, adding that the company has now implemented a controlled harvest to mitigate the treat from natural disasters.

“We avoid keeping fish out at sea in the winter and bring them in before the Lunar New Year. We sell the entire fish, butchered, in one package,” Liu said.

“Some of our regular customers buy larger fish weighing more than 20kg,” Liu said.

Liu said he farms more than 800,000 fish in about 30 varieties and has plans to raise more.

The company farms fish in a higher price bracket, limiting its output, while maintaining a stable price.

Tan Hou sells NT$300 million worth of fish each year. Last year it faced a NT$85 million loss, Liu said, adding that he has spent more than NT$2 billion raising fish.

There is still “a long way to go” before making a profit, he said.

Despite being told he is “throwing money into the sea,” Liu’s dedication has seen Tan Hou grow into the only known branded fishery in Taiwan that raises, markets and cooks its fish.

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