To Be a Good Galchi Fisherman, You Have to Stay Up Pretty LateIn the middle of the night, just off Geomundo island near the coast of South Cholla province, a boat drifted softly in the calm, with 42 bright floodlights shining into the water.
The fishermen were looking for galchi, an elusive hairtail, a long, thin relative of the barracuda that is a delicacy in Korea.
It was very late, but these men were more than awake, wrestling with the writhing, silvery species on the boat. Every time the skilled fishermen reeled in their lines, they emerged with a bunch of galchi. Soon, there was a huge pile of galchi on the boat.
When fishermen try to catch galchi, they use hooks instead of nets. The long, sharp teeth of the galchi are a threat to other fish, and in a net, they often bite and wound each other.
Fish with scars or scratched scales have a lower value in the market. It is also not easy to remove the hooks from the fishes' snapping mouths.
It was hard to stand still for any length of time on the boat, but it was beautiful out there, when looking at the lights from the boat reflected on the water.
"Schools of galchi swarm the boat, chasing the lights; but the size of your haul depends on your fishing skill," said Kim Yeong-bae, one of the crew.
Jo Chang-ho, a fisherman with 20 years of experience, said, "When we are on the boat, we do not even talk with each other. We only fight with the galchi all night long, except for a short break to have a midnight snack."
Most fishing boats that catch galchi put out to sea around 5 p.m. and stay out all night. A skilled fisherman can catch up to 110 kilograms of galchi in a night.
All the fishermen must work hard and try to catch as many as they can because they have to split the proceeds of whatever they catch with the owner of the ship.
Galchi are found in abundance in the sea near Geomundo between June and early November. The fish taste best, however, around this time of year, after the breeding season in the summer. Geomundo gets crowded with hundreds of fishing boats when the schools of galchi move to the south of the island. Each boat has about four to eight fishermen on board.
"I have been fishing galchi for 11 years but this year's haul is the richest ever," said Kim Han-gi, the owner of a fishing boat, "Jeilho."
People at the wharf on Geomundo bustle from early in the morning. By the time those fishing boats return at about 6 a.m., the wharf is full of laborers, merchants and tourists waiting for fresh galchi.
The fish, packed evenly in boxes, are delivered to the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives market at the wharf for an auction. While brokers and the agents from the cooperative make deals for galchi, the fishermen head home or to coffeehouses to rest after a long, hard night.
This year, the amount of galchi sold through the cooperative at Geomundo until August reached a total of 7,018 tons － that is worth over 4.8 billion won (about $3.7 million). The haul, compared to last year's 344 tons, is incredibly rich.
"It will be easy to reach sales of 7 billion won by the end of October. This year will be recorded as the best haul year for galchi," a representative from the Geomundo cooperative said.
by Chun Chang-whan