K·FISH Company Story

Increasing competitiveness in exports with golden flounder – Haeyeon Fish Farm 2017-11-24 21:58


What is the top export item among the foods of Jejudo Island?

Jejudo Island, a fantastic island with mysterious natural landscape and delicious food, is considered the unrivaled travel destination ofKorea. When people think of the ‘representativefoods of Jejudo Island’, they think of black pork, tangerine, green tea, and the like. But surprisingly, itstop export item to the world is flounder. Floundertakes 52% of the total fish farming production and it can be found in anywhere in the country, from large supermarkets to traditional markets and raw fish restaurants. Living up to its title as the fish of the people, its annual faming production reaches about 41,613 tons and KRW 534.1 billion. More surprisingly, approximately 63% of the domestic production and 96% of the export volume are produced inJejudo Island (as of 2016). Thus, Jejudo Island can be considered as the home of flounder, and it is here that one can find the ‘flounder house.’Haeyeon Fish Farmis a civil fish research institute that researches and develops species of flounder, and supplies fertilized eggs to farms across the country. It is no exaggeration to say that 7 to 8 flounderout of10 general farmed flounderproduced in Korea go through Haeyeon Fish Farm. In particular, the ‘golden flounder’ of Haeyeon Fish Farm, which became the first product toreceive the Marine Product Export Brand (K‧FISH) certificate in the live flounder categorylast July, became the talk of the town as it was exported to Canada at the end of September. We met Haeyeon Fish Farm’s CEO Suh, Jong Pyo,who succeeded in opening the golden door to export after long years of research.


Haeyeon Fish Farm, the only civil fish research institutein Korea

We met CEO Suh, Jong Pyoat the office of HaeyeonFish Farm, which islocated in Handong-ri, Gujwa-eup, Jeju-si. He had just returned to Jeju on the morning of interview after days of domestic and overseas business trips, but he showed no signs of fatigue, and accepted the interview with a smile. Haeyoen Fish Farm, located by the costal road with a view of the blue sea, looked quite large from the entrance.

△ Panoramic view of Haeyeon Fish Farm

Among the 3,600㎡ total area of Haeyeon Fish Farm, the laboratory building and the farming building make up about 2,200㎡. The laboratory building and the farming building are divided by type of fish, such as golden flounder, general flounderand turbot (flounder from Europe), and the experimental groups with different variables are thoroughly classified for each water tank. Currently, about 10 employees, including researchers with masters and doctoral degreesas well asfield staff with rich experience in managing fish,work day and night.

“While your average fish farm simply ‘farms’ fish,Haeyeon Fish Farm ‘breeds’ fish. In other words, our goal is to develop and supply good species of fish. Furthermore, we aim to develop fish species that are economically promising and to make the developed species more economically feasible.”

[Break Corner] What is fish breeding?
A form of technology for developing new species or breeds of plants and animals that have higher utility value for human life by improving or changing the idioplasm of organisms. (Source: Naver Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Korean Culture)

△ Golden flounder (left) and turbot from Europe (right) in water tanks

The words ‘The One and Only Civil Fish Research Institutein Korea’ in front of Haeyeon Fish Farm attracted our attention. Fish breeding for improving species of fish is considered to be a field ofR&D that requires a great amount of human and material resources. It is not area fieldthat private companiescan approach easily, but CEO Suhhas been looking at the bigger picture since the 1990s.


“In case of agriculture, there are seedstores that specifically sell seeds. But the fisheries industry - in other words, fish - had no such place. Back then, we traditionally squeezed and fertilized eggs and sold them, but I believed that securing good breeds was the area we had to develop. Floundersfrom Korea are known as the world’s best, but I felt that it was necessary to have a scientific, genetic analysis process and a structured system to truly ensure they were the best.”

Back then, foreign countries had relatively advanced fish breeding systems. Korea agreed that it wasimportant to research nationally excellent fish species and established the Genetics & Breeding Research Center, National Institute of Fisheries Science (NIFS)in 1997. CEO Suhalso started researching fish breeding around that time. This marked the beginning of the one and only civil fish research institutein Korea.


Jejudo Island,home toperfect conditions for flounderfarming

According to CEO Suh, it is possible to produce massive amount of floundersin Jejudo Island because it has the optimal natural environment for spawning and growth of flounder. The competitive power of fish breeding all depends on environment. Breeding technologies and management knowhow only come into factor once the environment has been obtained. Jejudo Island, particularly the part of the eastern Jeju in which HaeyeonFish Farm is located, has anunderground seawater layer with constant water temperature all year round and stable water quality, which make it perfect for flounderfarming. The key point of flounderfarming is pumping up this underground seawater and adjusting the water temperature and intensity of illumination. But ironically, Jeju’s environment can also serve as an obstacle. Jejudo Island is the main path of large and small typhoons and the companymust go into emergency mode if any signs of risk are detected, asthey could cause damage or failure of facilities that provide the adequate environment to flounders. When typhoon ‘TALIM’ moved north, all employees were on standby to protect the facility. “But farms in Jeju, including HaeyeonFish Farm,are well prepared against typhoons due to their wealth of experience”, said Suh.  

△ CEO Suh, Jong Pyo (right) is measuring the size of the golden flounder

Meanwhile, that saying that a child is healthyonly when its parents are healthy applies to flounder as well. According to CEO Suh, tests to select outstanding species in various elements including disease tolerance, growth speed, genetic diversity, and more are carried out on broodstock (parent fish). Since it is not artificially manipulating genes but rather developing superior species through reproduction alone, the shorter the generation gap, the fasterthe better species are born. Suhproudly statedthat HaeyeonFish Farm has high standards for selecting broodstock and is successfully narrowing the generation gap with research results, and therefore making a more outstanding species of flounderthan any other place.

Opening the golden future of exports with golden flounders

When we asked Suhabout the representative product of Haeyeon Fish Farm, he immediatelymentioned the ‘golden flounder.’ The golden flounderis a kind of color mutant and is not so different from general flounderbeyond its golden color. But its reproduction rate in natural conditions is extremely rare, with a chance of 1 to tens of millions. Some fish farms used to refer to it as a ‘guardian’ and treasure it.  

△ Comparison of general flounder(top) and golden flounder(bottom)

△ Haeyeon Fish Farm’s successfully bred golden flounder; its vivid yellow stands out

CEO Suhzeroed in on itsrarity. He added that the golden flounderis the product of Haeyeon Fish Farm specialized for export, targeting Chinese-speaking countries including China,where the ‘golden color’ is seen as avaluable color. In 2007, he jumped into this field with an ambition to farm golden flounderin large quantities, but it was difficult to find the broodstock species because of the innate rarity of natural golden flounder. He asked fishery households, fish farms and raw fish restaurants across the country, even going as far as to offerrewards, but he could only collect about 10 flounders. He built a systematic research and management system to reproduce these species and he finally succeeded in the mass production of golden halibuts after 8 years of trial and error. It is indescribable how much difficulties he had to go through and how much effort he put into to gain such tangible results. 

“It was a battle against time because I had to collect species that were born naturally as mutants. It takes about 3 to 5 years for one generation to pass. My hair was keep coming off over time. (Laughing) Since the golden color in golden flounderdoes not come out quickly oroften, many people pointed their fingers at me and called me a swindler.”


△ The process of color change inagolden flounder. The color slowly changes from 1 year after incubation   

No one could guarantee when and how he could achieve results, but Suhcontinued to research the golden flounderwith his employees.


“I spent all the money I earned from selling fertilized eggs and farming onresearch for over 10 years. My wife tried to stop me from continuing, but I couldn’t. There were many reasons, but most of all, it was really fun. If I were to putit grandly, I had a sense of duty that ‘I had to do it.’ There was also the matter of pride.”

In 2013, he encounteredan important opportunity that led the ‘golden flounder’ research to success. The golden flounderwas included in the Golden Seed Project (hereinafter GSP) supported by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. Recalling the time, Suhsaid, ‘It was the state’s support that helped us pass through the crisis of research discontinuance,allowing us to successful farm the golden flounder.”

△ Won Hee-Ryong, the governor of Jejudo Island,visitingHaeyeon Fish Farm in 2016, holding the golden flounder(left)

He showed the golden flounder in various domestic and overseas expositions thorough the support of relevant organizations, and received the K‧FISH certificate of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries with the golden flounderfor its outstanding commercial value. It hadbeen approved as the representative export item of Jejudo Island due to its quality. Furthermore, after the product’sfirst export to Canada on September 27th, he is preparing for advancement to various countries that show interest.


Building an all-year-around flounderproduction system was the most fulfilling achievement

Suh’s success in farming was not limited tothe golden flounder. ‘Ara’, the highly-renowned species and the specialty of Jejudo Island,wasalso his work. After 10 years of research, he succeeded in artificial breeding of arafor the first time in Korea in 2003. With his achievement, the marine farming project, which was being promoted by Jejudo at the time, gained momentum. When we asked him what his most fruitful achievement was, his answer was something unexpected. What he was proud of was notara or the golden flounder,but breeding of general flounder. As mentioned earlier briefly, the majority of farmed flounder in Korea are produced by him.


“Flounderspawn only in spring. You need to make and raise the breed during that time but in case of foreign countries, annual production is often not consistent. It’s becausethe breed is not supplied efficiently. But we built a system that can supply throughout the year, which maintains aconstant volume of flounderproduction in Korea. People may be unaware of this, but I am really proud of it.”


△ The golden floundertank under light  

서대표에따르면넙치가계절의변화를느끼는것은 ‘수온’, 그리고빛을쬐는시간인 ‘광주기’에달려있다. (영)해연은수조별로수온과광주기를미세하게조정하여각월별로일정량의종자를확보할수있도록시설을갖추고노하우를쌓기위해노력했다고. 다른어종에비해넙치가비교적안정적인싯가를유지하는이유가비로소이해된순간이었다.

No rest until a 100% pure golden flounder is born

Now, HaeyeonFarm Fish mainly focuses on the ‘golden flounder’ farming. The ratio of the golden flounderto appear among the current residing fish, referred to asthe ‘appearance rate’, is approximately 20% from the total fertilized eggs. The ‘appearance time’ from which the color changes to gold is about 1 year after incubation. The goal of HaeyeonFish Farm is increasing the appearance rate and shortening the appearance time to produce 100% pure golden flounder. They also plan to apply technology to protect the genetic information from being cloned by other countries.

“We are the only country that owns the golden flounderand it should not be easily copied. We must make and apply a biological key. It will take a long time and it will not be easy because we have to achieve it only throughpure breeding without genetic manipulation, but we will make it.”

△ Researchers collecting fish eggs (left), CEO managing the next-generation flounderspecies (right) 

He didn't forget to add a word of advice to not enter the fish breeding industry just for monetary value of rare species. His tone was more decisive at this point than any other point of the interview till then.


“The fish breeding industry is very small in Korea. If someone thinks that it will make themgreat money, I can firmly say that that is a delusion. Just having academic knowledge on biology and genetics isn’t enough. You also need to have managementskills to fertilize, breed, and raise the brood stock up to the growth phase. If you still want to do this, expect to go through a measure of sacrifices and hardships.”

Wrapping up the interview

Through this interview, we realized CEO Suhand employees of HaeyeonFish Farm are not continuing fish breeding researchsimplyfor their own benefit.   

“I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I will continue to do so, but my biggest wish is to continuously develop and spread fish species with higher value. I’d like it if many farmers could help each other and ifgeneral customers couldenjoy various species of fish with outstanding quality. I hope to create a productive structure of a virtuous cyclein which consumption leads to production as well as research and development.”

The government announced the keynote to build the powerful nation of breeding by 2020. We sincerely support Haeyeon Fish Farm, the ‘flounder house’,who have contributed to that vision,in their quest to continue their unstoppable footsteps.

[Haeyeon Fish Farm, Talking about K‧FISH]
Last July, HaeyeonFish Farm became the first toreceive the Marine Product Export Brand (K‧FISH) certificate in the category of live flounder. It was not easy to earn thecertification, as K‧FISH represents the honor of fisheries in Korea, but HaeyeonFish Farm felt pride in having fulfilled the conditions.

△ Haeyeon Fish Farm in domestic and overseas expositions  

“We were the first case to apply for a live flounder, so we didn’t have a previous case to refer to, meaning thatthe procedures and conditions were difficult to meet. We hesitated to get the certification at first, but now we think it was the right choice. K‧FISH allowed us to have a broader path of promotion and export. The Korea Fisheries Association is working hard on promotion, so we had opportunities to publicize our product in domestic and overseas expositions as acertified company. Thecustomers’ reactions changed from ‘Interesting!’ tomore specific questions such as ‘How much can you export?’ aswe participated in expositions. I find myself feeling more convinced of the commercial value of the golden flounder with each passing day. Promotion and marketing depend on persistency. I believe exposing the product with the K‧FISH mark will build up the trust of foreign buyers. And one day, the golden halibut will become aprofitable product of Korean exports.”



■ Information about Haeyeon Fish Farm

▷ Address: 866, Haemajihaean-ro, Gujwa-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do
▷ Contact (export inquiry): Tel. +82-070-8823-0513 Fax. +82-303-3442-0512


There is a place called the‘flounderhouse’ in Jejudo Island, which can be considered as the home of flounder. Haeyeon Fish Farm is a private fish breeding laboratory that researches and develops species of flounder, and supplies fertilized eggs to fish farms across the country.
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