Ung-eo fish

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Ungeo inhabits the west coast of the Korean peninsula, especially in the lower reaches of rivers and offshore. They can also be found in some parts of China and Taiwan.

Ungeo is caught in quantities in brackish water areas where big rivers such as the Han river, Geum River and Youngsan river meet the West sea. They prefer slightly cloudy water over clear water, and appear to spend their time in the shallow areas during the day and deeper areas during the night. Young Ungeo migrate to the sea from summer to fall, and return to the river they came from around May when they are all grown up and ready to repopulate.

The breeding season is from May to July, and they trace up the river to lay their eggs. After spawning the eggs on reed beds, it is estimated that they stay around for a while longer before going back to the by the time of death. Back in the days, fishing nets and charfia were more preferred methods of catching Ungeo, while today’s fishermen either work with shrimp boats, as they get a lot of Ungeo as by-catch, and/or set up a fishing nets in the brackish water where the rivers meet the ocean. Its body is rather long and flat and gets thinner near the tail. It has rather a big mouth and a long upper jaw, which stretches all the way behind the eyes. .The dorsal fin is small and can be found at the front of the body, almost where the ventral fin begins. Its protruded snout is short and circular. the body is covered in round scales which are rather prone to droping. Around the belly part they are covered with 46-55 keeled scales. Their main diets varies slightly according to its specific location but copepods are the main diet for Ungeo, and crustacean such as shrimps, crabs and mysis as well.

According to the recorded history, Ungeo was offered to the royal palace for the king as health food in the Chosun Dynasty. During the Chosun Dynasty, they even had a designated Ungeo department in the local government to manage Ungeo supply for the royal palace. ‘the river was half water and half fish’, says old local residents. Before the Han river went through rapid industrial development, the river would get filled with Ungeo every season, providing valuable cash flow for the locals. But the industrialization of Korea and Han river Integrated Development program in the 80’s wiped out most of the reed beds, and Ungeo production has plunged ever since. In case of the Geum river, they built an estuary barrage on the lower reach of the river, blocking the Ungeo from returning to its breeding place. Anadromous fishes are almost extinct in the region. Ungeo, as an anadromous fish, traces up the river to it’s birth place every spring for repopulation. but most regional rivers and streams now have dykes and many reed beds are lost due to River Modification programs. Ungeo are still caught in smaller quantities in brackish water area but since it is not a fish that is very suitable for commercial selling purposes and even the quantities are plunging rapidly, forcing many Ungeo fishers to abandon their jobs.

According to Gyumjae Jeongson’s drawing from the 17th century, the spring night of Han river was lit brightly with Ungeo fishing ships, and this continued right until the Han river integration development program of the 80’s, providing food source and cash flow to the local residents for centuries. Ungeo today is almost considered useless by-catch from shrimping ships. In most regions, only the eldery locals still remember and enjoy the Spring Ungeo, while most younger generations and kids don’t even know its existence. Like other fishes in the anchovy family, they don’t last long in captivity.

Ungeo tastes best in late spring, and is usually consumed raw as ‘Hoe’. The whole body except for the head and guts can be eaten raw. From March to early May is the peak season for Ungeo consumption, when the bones are still soft and meat tender. Ungeo in the spring is rich in fat, the meat gets more and more savory as you chew. The texture is rather soft and light, and the after taste is somewhat ‘transparent’ and clear. After mid may the bones thicken and not as prefered, especially in Hoe form. Aside from Hoe(raw fish), popular ways of cooking Ungeo include cooking dried Ungeo on a grill, making spicy Ungeo soup and raw fish on rice bowl with various vegetables. Ungeo Jeotgal, or pickled(salted) Ungeo is famous for its unique flavor, it was considered a necessity in the royal kitchen.

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Territory

StateSouth Korea
Region

Jeollanam-do

Other info

Categories

Fish, sea food and fish products

Nominated by:Kim Won-il