HẢI DƯƠNG — As the sun sets, Lê Văn Quạt from Vĩnh Lập Commune in the northern province of Hải Dương sets out on a mission to catch ragworms.
The perfect time to find the wriggly treats is between 6 and 11pm.
Farmers in Hải Dương have started the first worm harvest of the year, which runs from September 20 to October 5 in the lunar calendar. The catches depend on the tides, and each lasts from two to three days.
After they're caught, the worms are left to dry before packaging. Traders come to buy the worms and sell them to neighbouring localities.
Ragworms are the main ingredient of a famous dish called chả rươi (ragworm fritters). The pancake-shaped patties are made from worms mixed with pork, eggs, fresh dill and citrus rind.
Quạt said ragworm productivity at the beginning of the season this year had increased by 30 per cent compared to last year, and they were selling out at prices between VNĐ350,000 to VNĐ400,000 (US$15-17) per kg.
A handful of worms after a bumper catch. — VNA/VNS Photo Mạnh Tú
Some years ago, farmers in the province bought rice paddy fields which had low productivity and instead used them to raise ragworms.
Quạt harvested his first worms in 2016 and has land covering 36,000sq.m now.
“Last year I caught 30kg of worms for every 360sq.m, earning VNĐ12million ($522),” he told Vietnam News Agency.
Farmers have localised farming areas and pumped water into the fields to catch more worms.
Over the past few years, local authorities in Thanh Hà District have also offered loans to farmers.
According to Nguyễn Văn Khoa, vice chairman of Vĩnh Lập Commune’s People’s Committee, when ragworms appeared in the province many years ago, farmers used simple tools to catch them in the river.
In recent years, they've invested in chemical-free fields and taken advantage of tidal water to increase productivity, he said.
Vĩnh Lập Commune now has about 45 worm breeding households, covering about 50ha around the Văn Úc and Thái Bình rivers.
Hải Dương Province has about 400ha of worm farms in Tứ Kỳ, Thanh Hà, Kim Thành, Kim Môn and Chí Linh.
Many farmers in the province earn a living from ragworms. They can earn VNĐ8-10million for every 360sq.m of land each year.
Worms are poured into nets after they are caught in the fields. — VNA/VNS Photo Mạnh Tú
Phạm Văn Tình, head of Aquaculture Division under Hải Dương Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said in rice fields and fruit tree growing areas located around worm raising areas, farmers say no to pesticides, chemical fertilisers and only use organic fertilisers and manure to protect worms.
“Ragworm quality in Hải Dương is very good. We ensure worms’ safety thanks to local farmers’ awareness of environmental protection,” he said.
Worms bring high economic values to farmers while investment in breeding worms is not high.
Raising worms requires uncontaminated water and soil. According to a representative of the provincial Aquaculture Division, local authorities planned to hold workshops to instruct farmers how to raise worms without harming the environment.
Farmers in Vĩnh Lập Commune are hoping that waste treatment factories in the area will follow safety standards in order not to pollute the rivers where the worms are raised. — VNS