Lufthansa Cargo supplies fishermen all around the Mediterranean Sea with living bait In the countries all around the Mediterranean Sea, they are the most popular bait. Whether on the coasts of Spain, in Greece or on the beaches of Italy: Living worms from China are first choice with surf fishermen in the South of Europe. High season for the watt worms from China is from April to October. During this time period, Lufthansa Cargo flies in easily three to four tons a day.
On Sunday shortly before 7 p.m., when Lufthansa flight LH 729 from Shanghai touches down at the Frankfurt airport, more than 300 people are aboard. The majority of passengers, however, are worms. In the cargo hold of the Boeing 747, at a temperature of about seven °C., millions of creepy-crawly- critters are bustling about, each one between ten and twenty centimeters long - sometimes brown, sometimes red or green and thick as a child’s finger.
They are packed in entirely normal-looking cartons, measuring 60x40x40 centimeters, which are lined on the inside with polystyrene and are divided into different chambers. This army-of-a-million tops the scale at a total of three tons. "On the annual average ", says Marco Klapper of the Competence Center Animals of Lufthansa Cargo, "we’re dealing with around 300 tons- and the tendency is rising".
Consignor of the shipment is the company Rui Qing Bait from the city of Jancheng in the Chinese province of Jiangsu. The company, first founded in 1997 on the East China Sea, is, in the meantime, the worldwide biggest producer and supplier of fishing worms. In Asia the creeping animals are called "lugworms" which are comparable rather with sandworms than the watt worms on the North Sea coast of Germany, are bred in China in gigantic farms. "You can drive along the coasts of the provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong, and you see for ten kilometers nothing else but companies specialized in the worm production", says Günter Grossmann.The two-time world champion and several times German champion in surf angling, knows the market and runs a well-known business with two brothers, dedicated to fishermen’s needs in Kiel: "The Chinese are in this in a big way ". For a long time now, they have been raising worms in Korea and Vietnam. The demand is gigantic. Thus, it is only too clear why for quite a while Rui Qing Bait has offered the different kinds of worms on its internet site in the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French languages- but not In German.
No wonder. Although per month between 30 and 40 tons of lugworms arrive at the Frankfurt airport aboard Lufthansa passenger planes from Shanghai , not a single worm remains in Germany. For the on-site forwarding agency Shanghai Pudong Chuangye Logistics at the Frankfurt airport, which serves as handling gateway for the mega-metropolis Shanghai, Frankfurt is only a stopover on the way to the Mediterranean Sea. While at the Frankfurt airport, a veterinary surgeon undertakes a visual inspection of the shipment and checks the documents. Then, the live goods will be loaded by Lufthansa Cargo onto the next passenger planes. Principal destinations are Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Porto, Naples, Bologna, Rome, as well as Athens and Marseille.
For Kurt Muskat there are two simple explanations for the fact that the South-European countries import yearly several 100 tons of worms from Asia. First: In Germany, only five percent of all inhabitants go fishing. In Spain, Italy or Portugal there are considerably more. There the fishing is frequently also a contribution to the feeding of the family. Secondly, and at least as important: "They have no watt and, for this reason, no worms", says the honorary president of the German Sea Angler Association. Low and high tide are not pronounced in the Mediterranean Sea. The sea recedes with low tide as a rule no more than 20 to 30 meters. In this narrow strip of dry sea bottom, no worms are living- at least they don't live in an accessible depth.
According to Kurt Muskat, on the German North Sea coast, as well as in Holland, Denmark or Sweden, the sea anglers, equipped with spades, can help themselves. When the seabed falls dry at low tide up to three kilometers away from the beach, the watt worm gives itself away. Then small coiled sludge-heaps on the watt surface show that 30 to 40 centimeters deeper, the U-shaped living-tube of the future bait is residing. It is quickly dug out with the spade. "Watt worms", says Kurt Muskat, "is the bait preferred by surf fishermen": "Plaice, flounder and eel, but also small cod and whiting like them the best".
Nevertheless, on Germany's seacoasts there are, long since, too few lugworms for fishing. Not every surf fisherman either desires or is able to stomp through the watt before an enjoyable round of fishing. Besides, for a number of years, the commercial digging and selling of the watt worm has been forbidden in Germany as a protection to the mud flats. "Only in parts of Holland and Denmark", says Günter Grossmann of Grossmann's Fishing Club, "is the commercial exploitation on a large scale still allowed". Thus, the watt worms which are sold by Grossmann and other traders, come then, almost exclusively, from the neighboring countries Holland and Denmark. All attempts to breed these worm species have failed up to now. Sea centipedes, the alternative to the watt worm, on the other hand, can be produced in farms.
German surf fishermen on the North Sea and on the Baltic, must pay for every watt worm or sea centipede up to 30 cents. According to Kurt Muskat every surf-fishing tour can easily cost from 30 to 60 Euros. The Chinese, on the other hand, already offer their lugworms to the Wholesale- with a minimum purchase of at least a half a ton- for a kilo price of eight Euros. With about 150 worms per kilogram, the cost per worm comes to approximately 5.5 cents. In view of these prices, Muskat foresees "rosy times in Germany" for the Chinese. This will please the management of Rui Qing Bait on the East China Sea. And Lufthansa Cargo also.