The fish hunters

No 3, Vol.7, June - July 2015

Each hunter is dropped at different locations for hunting

2a.m. The fish hunters and I hit the road to Doc Let, then followed a concrete road to Ninh Hai Commune, about 40 km north of Nha Trang. Mr Giang, the helmsman, was already there, taking heavy gear bags to the boat. After two hours of navigating, the scenery got clearer. We came to the hunting ground near Hon Lon Island. The hunters got busy putting on their gear.
Mr Trung, a 40-ish robust man was the first to jump overboard. The boat kept going. I was surprised at the technique, making a friend laugh. ‘This is hunting, not angling. Hunters are dropped about 100 - 200m from each other, and they hunt on their own. When all hunters are dropped, the boat goes back to station, waits for a while, and then fishes out the hunters. The procedure repeats several times, and we go home when [we are] tired,’ he explained.
All divers down, I remained alone with the helper boy on the boat. I asked him, ‘How do you know where to pick up the hunters?’ The boy smiled. ‘Easy, just watch for the snorkels or the bubbles.’ He pointed toward a rock, ‘There is one, wow, with some fish there.’ I saw nothing until Mr Trung came back to the boat. Then I saw that each of the hunters had a line attached to their belt to ‘bead’ their fish. Mr Trung threw his bead of fish onboard. One dotted queen fish, one red snapper and a few ghost fishes, over a kilo each, shined freshly under the sun.
The boat fished out every hunter in turn. They were all loaded with trophies; rabbit fishes, red snappers, sea basses, dotted queen fishes … all big and fleshy, the kinds rarely seen in the bazaars.
Curious, I asked for a try in the second round. My friend lent me a gear and taught me a few basic techniques. Excited, I dashed with him into the deep blue water. The sea floor seemed so deep; pitch black, rugged with rocks and mysterious cracks. My companion suddenly stopped and plunged his head down vigorously. About 3m under, he took a horizontal position and sank slowly. An arrow suddenly shot off, pulling a thin line behind it. It hit something. My companion resurfaced, his hand pulling the line with a big fish at the other end which wiggled desperately, trying to run and hide behind rocks. My friend pulled the sea bass back and stabbed on its head. And we went on.
This turns out to be quite a pocket-draining hobby. A hunter’s gear consists of a gun, a pair of goggles, a diving suit and a pair of flippers. The most important is the gun. Hunters used to buy guns made everywhere in the world, but now they love most the ones customized by Khoi (Song Thuy, Nha Trang). This guy’s guns are both perfect and reasonably priced. A gun usually costs VND4 – VND5 millions. Then you need goggles and a snorkel. ‘You need good goggles to give you real-size vision; otherwise a football-sized fish may look like an orange. Bad goggles may also be damaged under high pressure of the water, which is very dangerous’, a friend said. While diving, the goggles may get foggy and it’s best to defog it by your own saliva. My guts churned when I saw the hunters spit on their own goggles. Beside those accessories, each hunter must wear a lad belt weighing 5 – 10 kg that helps them go deep quickly. In an emergency, a click is enough to release the lead and free the diver. Finally he needs a good knife to cut any line or string if he gets entangled under water.
During the whole trip, the hunters worried most that fisher boats might come. My friend explained, ‘Some use mines to kill fish on this Van Phong Bay. They won’t check if anyone is under water.’ The hunters are also very careful about surfacing speed. After staying long in deep water, one must come up slowly. Otherwise, nitrogen in their blood may expand too quickly and damage the blood vessels.

Result after a hunting

To follow this hobby, one must have quite a lot of passion. To remedy it, the trophies can be very diverse and valuable; some even can’t be bought with money. The fish you get is very fresh, tasty and safe to eat. No preservatives, guaranteed!
The best treat of this trip is the ghost fish that I had never tasted, never heard of before. Very delicious. My friends explained, because it lives only in slits between rocks, safe from nets and even mines, so fishers rarely have it. If any, it goes immediately to restaurants. Another special treat is the red bass, king of basses, very tasty and highly priced.
The hunters are mostly government workers and officers. They come together for common fun, with no economic or financial motivation. Fish hunting is really a great sport. Who knows, in a near future it may become popular among young people who love sports and adventures.n

Text and photos by Hanh Thuy Khanh
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