500 hours afloat with fishermen: Part 4

Great battle against ocean's monsters

The sea hunters have, not a few times, been terrified by "monsters", which are the big fish. Many fishermen even had to pay by their own lives.
September 29, 2020 | 09:11
oral communication ships amidst bien dong sea "Oral communication" ships amidst Bien Dong Sea
aerial shot of fish market in vietnam among highlighted photos in intl competition Aerial shot of fish market in Vietnam among highlighted photos in int’l competition
chinese fishing vessels pose possible threats to seafood resources in bien dong sea Chinese fishing vessels pose possible threats to seafood resources in Bien Dong Sea
Great battle against ocean's monsters
The battle to hunt the giant skate.

The battle between 9 men and a fish

While laboriously pulling the net, picking up dragonfly fish that has the size of a full-grown corn, I and other 7 men were startled as Captain Leo suddenly and loudly shouted: "Quit, quit, skate fish, skate fish!". In the direction of Leo's hand, only about 70 meters away from the bow of the ship, hundreds of meters of nets were stuck together, rolled into a round sphere, running on the water, inside there was something wildly running and splashing.

Since the beginning of the trip, I had seen in person how the men in this ship catch several-dozen-kilogram fish. However, that was the first time I saw the net wrapped tightly together, only two fins were protruding like a pair of spokes fans, so I did not understand what fish in the net.

Quy quickly climbed to the top of the ship, not forget to bring another "khấu". "Khấu" is a giant iron hook. Fishermen tightly grasped the handle to hooked the large fish to pull onto the ship.

This was unusual, as a khấu can smoothly handle even a one-hundred-kilogram fish. The ship gradually got nearer to the bun of net, Quy and Nhot, two strongest men in the team, held the "armament" in their hands, together shouted "Khấu!". The two sharp iron blades stabbed into both shoulders of the black creature covered in the net. The wounded fish frantically struggling. Still, those two khấu already deeply hooked into its body. The giant skate tried to us its up-to-4-meter wings to flap water, making all 4 people holding the khấu tilt.

If this situation kept going on, it would be really soon till the fish pulled the whole team and khấu into the sea. Facing the danger of losing big fish, uncle Tam Hung shouted: "Bring out the rock hook, tie the anchor rope". The iron hook that is usually used to hook of cold ice, was pulled up from the basement. Thoi swung the hook and slammed it hard on the skate's jaw. The rope as big as the wrist, usually used to anchor the ship, now turned into a giant fishing line, dragged into the sea.

No longer able to hold the khấu anymore, 4 fishermen had to let go to fight for those who were pulling ropes. I also dropped the camera down to help create a battle between 9 men and a fish. We tried to pull, the fish tried to escape. It kept dragging us all the way up the bow, then down the middle of the ship. Whenever the tension seemed too tight, we had to let go a little of the rope so that the fish can run, then tried again to pull it to the side of the ship.

After 2 hours of fighting with 9 people, suffering from a few dozen stab wounds from the crowbar to dig ice, the fish was finally pulled onto the side of the ship, followed by a bunch of bluestreak cleaner wrasse. The 9 of us were all lying down, coughing hard because they were too tired, and everyone's hands burned.

Great battle against ocean's monsters
Cutting to caught skate.

Identify the monster

Only now can we see clearly "who" was the monster that drove the whole ship crew exhausted. It was a black skate (a relative of the stingray) about 4m long that looked like a roller coaster had just landed at an airport. Its back was covered with bristling, hard, and sharp spikes.

After estimating the fish to be no less than 500 kilograms, the oldest man, Uncle Tam Hung, shook his head and said: "I'm nearly too old to go to the sea yet never heard of anyone who has encountered such a fierce skate." Seeing the fish lying in the sun for hours, we all thought it was dead. Trung calmly cleared his net. Then all of a sudden, with just a slight wave of its wings, the skate pushed Trung off into the sea, causing everyone scared to death, all tried to save their friend.

Returning to the driver's position, when the ship continued to pull back its net, Leo drew a piece of incense to light the altar and then said: "Only luck can help us catch this fish. Comparing to its size and strength, my net is just a thread trying to tie the elephant feet ".

Catching the big fish was worth the price and the boat were happy to show up, but the process of putting it into the cellar was another problem. After four people, with axes and hammers, working their finger to the bone for an hour, they finally cut the flesh of the fish into 4 pieces, then put it in the cellar. After digging out the fish's guts, Trung picked up its stomach, which was as big as a basket - a specialty that all fishermen love. Those craving for that thing, no one dared to eat as the ship was still out on the sea. They were afraid that this old fish accumulating toxins. If something happened after they ate the stomach in the mainland, they can find an easier way to handle.

Great battle against ocean's monsters
A 90-kilogram codfish.

Fish hunting - A job must bet by life

After pulling the nets, the fishermen all equipped themselves with a few fishing rods to earn more. I also eagerly joined in to kill time. After giving me the fishing line which was fully baited, Chinh, "the king of fishing" as all the ship crew called, still told me: "Do not wrap the fishing line on your hand, if the fish pull too hard, you must remove the line. Many people have lost their fingers because big fish always take a piece of food and then quickly swim away. If the line is wrapped on the wrist, you have bit it with your teeth."

Before going to bed, Leo kept a machete at the anchor in case I was dragged into the sea by a fish, he would be ready to cut off the anchor rope so that the ship can follow me without starting the engine. According to their experience, only by letting the ship free flow, they would not lose their position compared to those who fell into the sea.

After releasing the bait for a while, my fishing line was tense, though I let go of the whole line, it still didn't sag. Chinh rushed to join me to pull the line. The last part was so heavy. From the sea surface, a large stingray slowly appeared. Amid my happiness, Chinh shouted: "Take the knife, cut off the line!" The sharp blade cut the fishing line that hooked a stingray as big as a flat winnowing basket. The fish disappeared in an instant. I kept wondering why he didn't take the fish. Chinh said, it was a Binh, so we did not want it. I resisted, said it was a stingray. He reaffirmed: "Here we call it Binh. Our people never catch this kind."

Then he told me the heartbreaking story. More than 20 years ago, everyone in Dinh Tan beach village had to respect the health and talent of a young man named Nguyen Huy Binh. Only after 3 days since he got married, Binh went out to sea. Once, he himself caught a one-quintal stingray and pulled it on the boat. Binh then came closer to remove the hook, when suddenly the fish threw its tail, hitting him in the right leg. We did not know whether it was the electric current or poison that made Binh faint right where he stood. When he woke up, he found himself in the hospital with one leg removed from the joint to his groin. It turned out that the whip of the stingray had damaged his leg, which had to be removed to save his life.

Too frustrated to be disabled person, Binh drew himself in alcohol. The young wife also left him to live with someone else. Binh missed the sea, the days of raging on the waves, the big fish. He kept going to the beach, standing and watching his friends go out to sea, then one night he plunged into the sea. Since then, the seafarers of Quang Ngai have named this kind of stingray Binh and told each other to never catch this fish again.

Hearing the sad story, I lost all the motivation to hold on the fishing rob and had to go to bed early. Only when Chinh and the others chanted as they pulled in a codfish that weighed about 90 kg, I woke up to witness another fish hunting battle that was about to begin.

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