A fresh crop of fish

(No.1, Vol.8,Feb -March Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Chau Doc Floating Village, An Giang Province
Photos: Vo Van Kien

From Chau Doc City, An Giang Province, following the Hau River, one can see hundreds of floating houses along a 3-4km section of the river. This is one of the biggest and most famous fish farming villages of Mekong Delta with a dense network of canals and rivers.
The founder of the village was 65-year-old Mr Luu Van Men. As a young boy, he used to fish with his family in Cambodia’s famous Tonlé Sap. At that time, as the large scale amount of fish being caught was overwhelming, Vietnamese fishermen invented a way of keeping them in cages to wait until the prices went up. They fed the fish just to keep them alive, but the fish grew big at a very quick rate. Caged fish farming began spreading as an efficient technique.
After 1970, Mr Men came back to his homeland An Giang with his knowledge of the technique. In 1972, he bought wood to assemble his first 6m x 12m raft to grow basa fish. A year later, he harvested his first fish batch. The event attracted the curiosity of a lot of people in the area.
Seeing Mr Men’s tremendous success compared to paddy work, people around him started making rafts and farming fish. The number of rafts and fish cages quickly increased, and only five years later, the Chau Doc floating village was formed.
After a decade of prosperity, the caged fish village of Chau Doc went into recession because the price of basa fish plunged. To sustain themselves, many raft owners began farming other kinds of fish such as tinfoil barbs, java barbs, groupers, and black and white pomfrets. Today, fish farming gives many families a stable income. A family with two 60m2 rafts can make VND140 million a year.
A couple of friends and I hired a five-seat boat for VND200,000 to explore Chau Doc floating village. After a short ride, we saw hundreds of houses bobbing on both sides of the 1.5km wide Hau River. Advancing two km further, I saw that the village had groceries, food shops, cafés and even a gas station.
We told the boat owner to approach an average raft and asked permission to board. The deeply tanned raft owner named Phep was quite hospitable. We were pleasantly surprised to see a TV, a fridge, tables and chairs and other comforts of home. ‘This is a house for a family of five. People live above, fishes underneath. The fish cage beneath us is 9m long, 6m wide, 3.5m deep, made of bamboo, wood, steel and covered with tin net,’ Mr Phep told us.
He added, ‘Currently Chau Doc floating village has about 350 cages. Those with little money have one cage, while rich families may have 5-6 ones.’
During the conversation, Mr Phep brought out a bag of fish food to pour onto the water and said, ‘Right now, the fish in this cage are already about 1kg apiece. The cage houses about 25 tons of fish. If you want to see them, just throw the food.’ We dropped pieces of food onto the cage and the fish immediately mobbed and fought for each mouthful, splashing water all around. What a sight!

Chau Doc city is 250km to the West of Ho Chi Minh City. Every day, many buses depart from the Western bus terminal to Chau Doc. Tickets are priced at VND140,000-VND150,000. The Western bus terminal is at 395 Kinh Duong Vuong St., Binh Tan Dist,
of Ho Chi Minh City.

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