No Bait Needed - The Jukkumi Just Love Being Caught

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No Bait Needed - The Jukkumi Just Love Being Caught

Maryang-ri, a port village on the west coast in South Chungchong province, comes colorfully alive in spring as the red camellias blossom in Dongbaekjeong woods (Dongbaek means "camellia."). For the villagers, the blooming of camellias signals that it is time to go fishing for jukkumi.

Jukkumi is a kind of baby octopus. It is available throughout the year except in summer, but it tastes best when in season during the spring.

In the early morning when the port is still cloaked in mist, Maryang-ri's fishermen load up their boats with ropes and empty "turban" shells (so named because they resemble turbans), and head to the sea to find jukkumi.

According to one of the fishermen, jukkumi are found all along the west and south coasts but are especially abundant in the ocean off Maryang-ri, where the freshwater of the Geum River meets the sea. Here, the sea is shallow and the tidal mud under the sea is mixed with sand, making a perfect jukkumi habitat. "Thanks to the good conditions, we catch over 10 tons of jukkumi in a month," boasted the fisherman.

The relative ease of catching jukkumi will have even die-hard landlubbers rolling up their sleeves. All you need is a rope, some string, an empty turban shell and a couple of spare days. Make a hole in the shell big enough to pass the string through. Tie the string to the rope and throw the rope into the sea. The jukkumi mistake the shell for home and move in, ready to be fished out.

Jukkumi caught in turban shells are also much fresher than those caught in shrimp nets, because they remain alive and healthy until fished out, without languishing in a net.

Catching jukkumi is a rewarding livelihood for the fishermen in Maryang-ri - and cheap, because no bait is used. The empty turban shells can be used for at least five years. A shell once cost 200 won (15 cents), but shells imported from China have pushed prices down to between 50 and 80 won.

In the early spring, fishermen in Maryang-ri usually gather up the shells from the sea every four or five days. From April, however, the fishermen harvest the jukkumi more often, about every two days.

In Dongbaekjeong, there are about 90 huge camellia trees that are over 400 years old. They bloom from mid-March into May. Visitors are drawn by both the beautiful flowers and the views of the port from the camellia woods, which are marvelous, especially around sunset. At Dongbaekjeong, a camellia and jukkumi festival began Sunday and will run through April 13. During the festival, there will be Sunday performances by Nong-aknori, a Korean traditional peasant band. Fresh fish and special products of the area will also be on sale.

For more information, call Seocheon county at 041-950-4224 (Korean only).

by Kim Sae-joon

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