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Fish feasts flourish at revitalized Chagan Lake

China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-21 09:29
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CHANGCHUN — Noon is the busiest time of day for Qu Sanmei. At the restaurant she owns in the northeastern province of Jilin, her fish dishes are especially good.

Qu's restaurant sits next to Chagan Lake in Qian Gorlos Mongolian autonomous county, where bountiful fish glide through the clear waters. The "All-fish Feast", her restaurant's specialty, involves as many as 16 types of fish.

It would not have been possible to serve this dish several decades ago.

Qu, 33, learned from her parents that in the 1970s, the waters of Chagan Lake had dwindled to just a few dozen square meters.

Despite an eight-year project to build a channel diverting water from the Songhua River, the surrounding saline-alkali soil and crop fields seriously impacted the water quality.

Moreover, local fishermen at the time had little to no awareness of environmental protection, and overfishing made the industry unsustainable.

The tide began to turn, however, in 2018 with a raft of measures to clean up the waters and improve the environment, including demolishing illegal buildings, returning farmland to forests and wetlands, and planting aquatic plants such as lotus and reeds.

The measures worked. The lake now boasts an area of 500 square kilometers, and its fish resources have recovered.

Qu grew up by the lake. In 2019, she and her husband opened a small restaurant. Today, it boasts 80 tables and welcomes up to 300 customers each day on weekends.

Pointing at a dish, she said, "This fish is unique to Chagan Lake, which has particularly high water quality requirements."

The quantity of fish has increased a lot thanks to the improved environment, she added.

Qu also sells fish online, and always includes her own homemade sauces and recipes.

She said there is raised awareness on environmental protection and locals now plant trees voluntarily. "The water quality is better, and the fish are bigger. We are seeing an increase in visitors and income," she said.

Different events also help to attract tourists.

"In summer we had the Lotus Festival, during which the number of customers to our restaurant doubled," Qu said.

Last year, Chagan Lake received more than 900,000 visitors, generating 792 million yuan ($108.9 million) in revenue.

Walking around the lake, visitors can see many similar restaurants.

"In the past, children of fishermen wanted to go to big cities, but now they are coming back," Qu said. "I hope that in the future our children come back here, to live and work by Chagan Lake generation after generation."


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