Profile: Fisherman-turned-tycoon works to improve life by sea

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FUZHOU, March 10 (Xinhua) -- From sailing with his grandfather as a boy to turning deserts into fishery complexes off the coast of Mauritania, 58-year-old Lan Pingyong has long worked to improve life by the sea.

As the founder of China's leading offshore fishery firm Hongdong Fishery Co., Ltd. and a lawmaker at the ongoing annual session of China's top legislature, Lan proposes ramping up financial support for Chinese firms to do businesses in Belt and Road countries and incorporating offshore fishery bases into national development planning.

His proposals are the result of a lifetime by the sea. Born into a fishing family in China's coastal county of Lianjiang, Lan started tagging along on fishing trips when he was 11. In those days, fishing was an ordeal in engineless sampan boats and without weather instruments.

"Once a storm, my grandfather would urge me to throw away the net with the fish in it, or we would lose our lives," said Lan.

The wooden boats in Lianjiang began to be replaced by ironclad boats in the late 1980s, when economic growth picked up. China's budding consumer market at the time was in need of more seafood than Lan could offer by fishing near his hometown. In 1999, he established his offshore fishery company. He had just two boats which were manned mostly by local fishermen.

Fishing well into the Pacific Ocean, Lan's crew had to stay onboard for as long as two years at a time with very limited medical assistance. As his business expanded, he began looking for better options.

In 2009, an exhaustive search for new ventures led Lan to his final stop -- Mauritania. The African country is covered by vast deserts and blessed with abundant marine resources, but is lacking infrastructure.

Off the coast of Nouadhibou, Lan and his team fought unthinkable odds to build a fishing and processing complex, shipping in mortar and steel bars from Spain while generating electricity and freshwater by themselves.

"Local people were amazed at how we did the 'impossible,'" said Lan. The dock was completed within 18 months, and refrigerated warehouses, processing plants and shipyards soon followed. With a total investment of 300 million U.S. dollars, the complex is currently one of China's largest offshore fishery bases.

"The first thing on my mind has always been what my business can leave for the local people," said Lan. The complex has hired over 2,000 local workers and trained them in sailing, fishing and processing. Approximately one in 10 local workers are women.

Lan has also learned a lot about sustainable fishing from locals, and Lan's fishery firm abides by rigorous rules for fish size and the mesh in fishing nets, among others.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Lan has had all hands on deck to keep the workers safe, staying up late to talk to his managers in Mauritania. Although the pandemic cost him around 500 million yuan (about 76.8 million U.S. dollars) last year, he is determined to keep everyone on the payroll and the business running.

The company has been expanding its global footprint in recent years, buoyed by the development of the Belt and Road. According to Lan, a processing base in Guyana began its pilot run last month, while future projects in Oman, Angola and Suriname are in the pipeline.

Lan hopes that more offshore fishing businesses will be able to play a bigger part in Belt and Road partnerships in the following five years. Enditem

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