Up early, traveled from Jinhua to Qiandao, which means “Thousand Islands” in Chinese. Today was a travel day and a chance to see some of the amazing places in China. Qiandao is a beautiful lake resort town, a very popular destination here. We arrived around lunchtime, checked in the hotel and walked around downtown. We stayed in Longting New Century Hotel, which is perhaps the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. Our rooms were on the 30th floor, with great views of downtown and Qiandao Lake. See the photos I posted on the Flickr site.

Eric talking with Dr. Wen

Eric and Dr. Wen talking about selective breeding

I do want to spend a little time today talking about one of our Chinese hosts, Dr. Wen. He is traveling with us for the entire trip. His first name is Haibo. Dr. Wen is a Fisheries Professor at FFRC and one of the leaders of the mussel group there. Interestingly, he is also one of Hua Dan’s former students when she was the leader of the mussel group in 1990’s and early 2000’s. His main work right now focuses on selective breeding of Hyriopsis cummingii and he is also working with Hyriopsis schlegelii. He is working to improve the captive strains of each species for pearl culture. His main field station is at the Yangtze River Rare Fishes Institute. But it his project that is supporting our trip to China. Dr. Wen has been a pleasure to be around, a truly wonderful host for us. We have had some great conversations about his work in China. We are hoping he will visit Virginia Tech sometime next year so he can see the mussel work we are doing.


The days photos can be found at:


Today we left Wuxi City and drove for about three hours to Jinhua City. We had lunch with Professor Zhang Genfang, the owner and operator of a nearby pearl culture farm. He is also a teacher and researcher at Jinhua College of Profession and Technology. After lunch we drove outside of the city to his farm, the Jinhua Wellwant Freshwater Pearl Culture Farm.

His farm has many acres and consists of about a dozen large shallow ponds, where he holds 40,000-50,000 Hyriopsis cummingii, the mussel species used here for pearl culture. The mussels are held in baskets and are implanted with 12-14 pearls per mussel. The baskets are suspended off the pond bottom by empty plastic soda bottles. Suspending the baskets improves the growing and survival conditions for the mussels. Depending on yearly growing conditions, the mussels are held in the ponds for about 3-5 years before the pearls are harvested from the mussels. Prof. Zhang harvested pearls from 3 mussels. Very interesting to see how the pearls grow implanted inside the mantle and do not touch the shell. If the pearl breaks through the mantle and touches the shell, it will fuse with it, hence destroying the pearl.

Pearls inside the mantle tissue
Pearls inside the mantle tissue.

One thing you notice at the farm, is the other fish species that are also being grown in the ponds with the mussels. Yellow eels, yellow catfish and carp for example, and even hot peppers along the pond banks. So the utility of the ponds and the farm is maximized.

After seeing the ponds, we walked over to his juvenile mussel rearing building. Very hot and humid inside! The juvenile rearing areas consisted of 4′ X 4′ shallow ponds, say about 4-5 inches deep. Water was gravity fed into the building from the main ponds. Yellow catfish is the host for Hyriopsis mussels and is used to produce the juveniles. He takes the glochidia (mussel larvae) from 1 female mussel and infests them on 15-20 young catfish about 4-6 inches long.  The catfish act as the host for the larvae as they develop into juveniles. The larvae feed from the gills of the fish and are carried by the fish to areas they would otherwise not be able to colonize.

He then holds the small catfish in the square juvenile mussel rearing areas until the juveniles drop off the fish. He removes the catfish, and the juveniles then grow inside the shallow rearing areas. A different set-up compared to what we use in the United States, where we hold the infested fish in aquarium tanks.

Learn more about the mussel life cycle at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/mussel/multimedia/life_cycle.html.

After you see such an operation, you begin to get new ideas for growing mussels back home. Seeing how they held the mussels suspended off the pond bottom was helpful to me.


The days photos can be found at:

Today was a big day for us.

Our academic exchange group gave presentations to the Freshwater Fisheries Research Center faculty and staff on our mussel conservation work in the U.S.

Eric Hallerman was up first and gave an overview of Virginia Tech University and the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Eric is the Department Head and Professor of Fisheries, specializing in genetics, and has been at the University for more than 20 years. He gave the Chinese students in the audience a good sense of the research being conducted in our Department and the skills an international student would need to succeed there.

Next up was Dick Neves. Dick is recently retired now but was a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for more than 30 years, specializing in freshwater mussel conservation. He served his career at Virginia Tech as a Professor of Fisheries and Leader of the USGS Cooperative Research Unit in the Department, where he established the mussel lab and program. Dick’s presentation was about the history of freshwater mussel conservation in the United States over the past 30 years, the major milestones and keys to success.

 Dick talking mussel conservation
Dick talking mussel conservation.

Dan Hua then gave her talk on mussel propagation, culture and monitoring efforts being conducted through Virginia Tech’s Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center (FMCC). Dan is the lab manager of FMCC and our academic exchange leader for the trip. She gave her presentation in Chinese, showing many of the interesting details on the life cycle of freshwater mussels. The audience seemed very engaged during her presentation.

I was up next and talked about the role population genetic studies have played in our understanding of freshwater mussel ecology and management of endangered mussel populations.

Eric then gave two final talks, one on selective breeding of Tilapia and another on mussel genomics. Because selective breeding is a an important research area at FFRC in Wuxi, this talk was well received. Further, he then shared how he and his colleagues sequenced the genomes and identified some of the major genes of three freshwater mussel species. I thought our presentations went very well and gave the faculty and students at FFRC a nice overview of the mussel conservation work we are doing in the United States.

After lunch, we met with Dr. Xu Pao and his staff to follow-up on our morning presentations and engage in further discussions on fisheries research and conservation in China. Eric talked with Professor Zaijie Dong, who is the Deputy Director of the Department of Genetics and Breeding, about selective breeding of Tilapia.

Many of the professors at FFRC are interested in improving Tilapia strains for food fish production, asking questions about the best ways to select and breed the different strains and species of Tilapia.

Later we talked with Professor Xu Dongpo from the Inland Open Water Fisheries Resources Department about the fisheries management issues in the Yangtze River. He explained that they are conducting monthly monitoring at various sites in the lower river for bighead carp, silver carp and other species. These are important food fishes for the families that live in the lower river basin and the fish stocks have declined there. So they are now augmenting populations with hatchery reared individuals and monitoring their stocking efforts.

A very lively discussion took place on the best way to monitor released fish using various types of tags. The Yangtze River has about 373 species of fish.


See the day’s photos at:


In the morning, we met with the Director of the Freshwater Fisheries Research Center (FFRC), Dr. Xu Pao. He gave us an overview of FFRC, its mission, departments and staff. The Center has two main missions, to conduct research on aquaculture and freshwater fisheries, and to conduct technology transfer and training to the private sector, local governments and even to aquaculture specialists from other countries.

Our discussion was mainly focused on the research mission, where Dr. Xu Pao explained that FFRC was established in 1978 and has 8 research departments: (1) Aquaculture, (2) Genetics and Breeding, (3) Biotechnology, (4) Open Water Management, (5) Environmental Protection, (6) Fish Disease, (7) Nutrition and (8) Fisheries Economics and Information Transfer.

The FFRC has a staff of about 200 people, of which 134 are Research Scientists. Of these scientists, 26 are Professors, 50 are Associate Professors and the others are Assistant Professors.

 The mussel group at FFRC

The mussel group at FFRC. Dr. Wen (white shirt center) and his lab group. Dr Shu and Dan to his left.

After our meeting we walked around campus and visited some of the laboratories. Many areas being upgraded and new equipment being brought in. In one of their labs, they had an excellent  set-up for conducting histology and SEM microscopy.

We visited Dr. Wen’s lab where we saw his shell collection of Chinese freshwater mussels. (I’ve uploaded a couple of photos on the Flickr site).

The FFRC is impressive, to see so much research and extension dedicated to aquaculture and fisheries housed under one roof. Currently, there are >100 scientists and technicians from >20 countries around the world who are studying at FFRC, people from Sierra Leon, Kenya and many others from countries in Asia.

After our tour of FFRC, we went for lunch in downtown Wuxi with Xu Pao and a few of his staff. Their hospitality and generosity has been amazing!


More photos can be seen at the Flickr site:


Today we visited the Yangtze River Rare Fish Institute. The facility is privately owned by Zheng Jinliang and specializes in rearing rare fishes from the Yangtze River and other places around the world. Currently they are growing knife fish, puffer fish, Japanese eel, Australian crayfish, the mussel Hyriopsis cumungii and American shad. Mr. Zheng was the first to close the life cycle for American shad in captivity. Live individuals were brought over from the U.S.A., collected from the Columbia River. In 2010, the facility produced 10 metric tons valued at 1.5 million U.S. dollars. The facility rears mussels for producing pearls and other rare fish species from the Yangzte River basin. His work at the Institute has been recognized and awarded by the Chinese government. At the end of our tour, Mr. Zheng and his staff provided us with an excellent lunch, to include puffer fish and eel. The eel was my favorite!


Bagging puffer fish

Bagging puffer fish for shipment to Beijing. See more photos at:


After a 13 hour flight from Detroit, we arrived in Shanghai around 6 pm local time. Several of our Chinese colleagues from the Freshwater Fisheries Research Center in Wuxi met us at the airport for pickup. We then drove about 3 hours south to Wuxi to get settled in to our hotel. So, a long day, but everything is in good order. Tomorrow we visit a center for pearl culture and rearing rare fishes from the Yangtze River.


Hi Everyone – Still working on my blogging skills but more later


A photo of us at airport:

July 14, Gang leaving Roanoke