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500 hours afloat with fishermen: Part 3

Net fishing flying fish on the sea

09:09 | 29/09/2020

Flying fish are abundant across the country but mostly are “mẻng” flying fish. The bigger ones known as “cồ” flying fish, however, are only spotted off the shore of Dinh Tan village, Paracel Islands. Only local Dinh Tan villagers know where the large species of flying fish are to net them.

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net fishing flying fish on the sea
Net-fishing on the sea off the Dinh Tan village (Photo: Thoi Dai)

Net-fishing is a battle

It was three in the morning. On the global navigation vehicle, while numbers indicating the longitude and latitude were getting bigger, the knots are getting smaller. As the boat came to a complete shutdown, Leo shouted “Prep the offerings. Each of you does your own tasks. We’re getting started in a minute”.Turned out that was the first net-fishing time of the journey, even though they’d set sail for 4 consecutive days amidst the sea.

Most of the fishermen whose livelihood depends on fishing are idealistic. For them, their safety and how big the batch of fish depends on Mrs. Cau. Before casting the net out into the ocean, the fishermen often pay tribute to Mrs. Cau to pray for a safe, fruitful catch. Cursing, toileting, littering are a no no during the net-fishing time.

At the head of the boat, Mr. Tam Hung and Thoi, each threw one water probe into the water to measure the water’s speed. Hung, whose has been living on net-fishing in the past 35 years, said “Flying fish follow the wave to prey on foods in the surface of the sea, some 4 meters under the water. Thus, we need to measure the water’s speed to be able to catch the biggest batch of fish”.

On the cabin, Captain Leo read the compass to determine the direction, then the water probe machine to decide the water’s depth and speed. Once done with the numbers, Leo let the boat run again, pull the two water probes up, and commanded “Let’s sail far today”.

The boat sped up at 6.5 knots, a group of 7 fishermen rushed to the right of the boat, starting to tie the buoys. Den and Trung, the two most experienced fishermen in the group, were in charge of casting the nets out to the sea, as this was the hardest step in the net-fishing things.

After 1 hour, 12km of net had been cast out, buyos stayed afloat on the sea, hugging in batches of flying fish.

net fishing flying fish on the sea
The boat is filled with white flying fish (Photo: Thoi Dai)

Measuring the water is the key to successful catching. If the water flow is high in the morning, we’d better go catch far off the shore as there are plentiful of fish milling the long distance looking for foods. If the water flow is medium in the afternoon, flying fish often just swim nearer ashore. You’d be struggling a lot if you don’t know this secret”, Leo explained.

Sailing out to catch fish is like entering a battle, and each is a totally different one. There are many fishermen who’ve run out of all stocks food but could net meagerly and had to get back ashore. You can guess, it was a heavy loss”.

A boatful of flying fish

The fishermen crew dines on porridge every time they got small catches, with a belief that Mrs. Cau would give them a more fruitful catch the time after that. The pray, in fact, often works.

On the 9th day in the sea, the fishermen pulled up only 157 fish, weighing near 30kg. However, in the afternoon, schools of white, sparkling flying fish were caught, everyone worked relentlessly as the flying fish were just so plentiful. After the 4th netting, batches of white flying fish filled the boat, which was later stored in over 70 fish tanks.

We have Mr. Cau to thank for. We got over 1 ton of flying fish this afternoon”, a fisherman said.

A net-fishing day of the fishermen started before dawn, with the “anchor exercise” and ended with dinner at 11 pm, got a sound sleep in the sea, and ready for the next day.

net fishing flying fish on the sea
Net-fishing at night (Photo: Thoi Dai)

Leo is only 37 years old but is classified as a senior for having such great expertise in water speed and fish flow in Trung Sa. However, it doesn't mean all of his catches are successful.

After the first four days with over 7 tons of flying fish each, on the 5th day, Leo’s crew didn’t catch a single fish. Instead, only heavy clusters of plastic waste were trapped in the net.

It sucks! Water probing was good, but instead of fish, it’s all trash. Not any fish could swim with such a large amount of waste”, captain Leo said. “Only by venturing into the sea during the fish-catching journey can I witness how much the human beings are trashing the ocean”.

“I just thought there would be no waste at such a far-off coordinate, which is tens of thousands of miles away from residential areas. I jumped off the boat and dived into the sea to see how big the trash flow was. I was taken aback as there were different kinds of trash. It’s true that the ocean feeds people with seafood and brings us wealth, but in contrast, us human beings are paying back the ocean with tons of waste, turning it into the largest “United Nations trash dump” on the planet. Fishermen like us would soon run out of fish to catch”, Leo said.

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Jasmine Le