Bagan Datuk Major Exporter Of Jellyfish

By Ahmad Erwan Othman

BAGAN DATUK (Bernama) -- A swarm of jellyfish can look almost ethereal as their translucent umbrella-shaped bell and trailing tentacles float rhythmically across the sea.

However, the graceful appearance of the aquatic creature belies the deadliness of its tentacles.

Not only do the stinging tentacles cause excruciating pain, it also emits toxins capable of causing temporary paralysis or even death.

Despite the misgivings some might have of the gelatinous marine life, some jellyfish are actually edible and considered a delicacy in countries like Japan and Korea.

EXPORT MARKET

Unbeknownst to many, the quiet town of Bagan Datuk is actually a major exporter of preserved jellyfish with its main market being China and Japan.

Over 20 fishing industry operators in Kampung Bagan Ikan, off the coast of Sungai Perak, are involved in the business.

One of them is Tan Ah Chun, 54, who is the second generation running the family business.

Despite it being a medium scale business, she said it provided rather lucrative returns with up to tens of metric tonnes in export, depending on season.

The mother of seven had been exposed to the business at a very young age and is now being assisted by her five daughters and two sons.

According to Tan, there are specific techniques to processing jellyfish before it can be safe for consumption.

The preservation process takes place in a shed in Tan's backyard. Most of the jellyfish are of varying species and bought from local fishermen, while the rest are collected from around Sungai Perak by two workers under her employment.

"It takes about a week to process the jellyfish. We separate the head from the tentacles because the head costs more in the market at around RM5 per kg, compared with RM2 per kg for the tentacles," she said.

The amber-coloured preserved jellyfish, however, could cost up to RM20 a kg, she said.

PROCESSING

The jellyfish caught are first cleaned of its mucus and left soaked in water overnight.

It is then soaked in a special solution for two days. Tan said this is to help neutralise the venom within the jellyfish so that it would be safe for consumption.

The jellyfish are then sprinkled with salt to draw out the remaining toxins and to help the preservation process.

"The jellyfish are salted and stored for one or two nights. It is then cleaned again with salted water and doused in fresh salt before being packed for marketing and distribution," she explained.

Though a bulk of the production was for export, Tan said that she also supplied to popular restaurants and hotels in the capital city.

LESSER CATCH

She noted, however, that the volume of jellyfish caught over the past three years had been steadily declining. There were times when it was difficult to meet with the market demand for it.

She believed that it was erratic weather conditions and pollution at the mouth of the river that was affecting catches.

Another salted jellyfish operator, Tan Chin What, 52, said that the people of China and Japan believed that jellyfish had healing properties.

They believed that consuming the aquatic animal could help cure asthma-related respiratory diseases and prevent cardiovascular diseases, among others.

BERNAMA