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Fresh catch: Photographs capture yearly fishing ritual on Vietnamese islet

Friday, January 18, 2019, 14:58 GMT+7
Fresh catch: Photographs capture yearly fishing ritual on Vietnamese islet
Canaries are seen flying in front of a fishing boat off Phu Yen Province, south-central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa

Nostalgic scenes of fishermen working in the waters off Hon Yen Islet are reeling in fans for Tran Bao Hoa, the photographer whose “Fishing Dance” photo series earned him the second place in a contest held by the Vietnam Heritage Association.

Hon Yen (Canary) Islet was named after the thousands of canaries that call the tiny piece of land off the coast of Phu Yen Province their home. 

Off the island’s coast, fishermen spend their days hunting for the squid, crabs, and dozens of other sea creatures that inhabit nearby waters, particularly the renowned ‘Hon Yen anchovy’ – a local specialty that, despite measuring no longer than the size of a toothpick, is coveted by gastronomists throughout Vietnam for its unique taste and tenderness.

Every June, at the start of the anchovy mating season, veteran fishermen from across the province flock to Hon Yen catch hundreds of thousands of kilograms of these tiny fish for eateries throughout the country.

When Tran Bao Hoa, a photographer from Dak Lak Province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, heard about the yearly migration of fishermen to Hon Yen waters, he was immediately drawn in by the opportunity to capture the raw beauty of the annual ritual.

His finished product, “Fishing Dance,” is a compilation of photos taken during the month and a half he spent with the fishermen.

A bird’s eye view of the Hon Yen fishing area. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
A bird’s eye view of the Hon Yen fishing area. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa
Bustling fishing activities. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
Bustling fishing activities. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa

Each day, Hoa would spend his morning making the 70km commute from Phu Yen’s capital Tuy Hoa to Hon Yen. 

He would then watch the fishermen as they examined the tides to estimate the location of the anchovies. 

By 2:00 pm, they would be ready to cast their nets. 

But it was not until night fell that the real work began. 

Because anchovies swim at 30-40m below the surface, ultralights are used to attract the fish while the fishermen use long sticks to herd them toward their nets. 

It was only at around 9:00 pm that fishermen would call it a day and head back to shore to prepare the anchovies for the next day’s morning market. 

Afterward, Hoa would head back to Tuy Hoa, arriving at about midnight and ready to rest up for another day.

“A fishing crew can gather 10-20 batches of anchovies during each outing. Each batch weighs 20kg and is worth about VND1 million [US$43],” one fisherman told Hoa.

Smiles of triumph spread across fishermen’s faces. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa
Smiles of triumph spread across fishermen’s face. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
Smiles of triumph spread across fishermen’s faces. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa

Hoa says capturing “Fishing Dance” was the experience of a lifetime.

Though not every outing is smooth sailing, especially during monsoons when he would make the 70km commute only to come back empty-handed.

“The trip will forever be imprinted on me. Each one of my photos is a fond memory,” Hoa said.

With such a vibrant perspective on traditional fishing, Hoa’s “Fishing Dance” was awarded Second Place at the 2018 Vietnam Heritage photography contest held by Vietnam Heritage Association.

“From the breathtaking scenery and the albatrosses circling the skies looking for tasty anchovies below, to the triumphant smiles on each fisherman’s face as they gather their fish and let me share in their catch, everything was simply astounding,” he added.

Owing to the fishermen and colleagues for such resounding success, Hoa also made a copy of “Fishing Dance” for each of his hosts.

Once pulled up, anchovy batches are immediately preserved in salt-strung containers. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
Once pulled up, anchovy batches are immediately preserved in salt-strung containers. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa
A fishing crew turns on ultralight to attract a school of anchovy. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
A fishing crew turns on ultralights to attract a school of anchovies. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa
Fishermen ready to lure in their bounty. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
Fishermen ready to lure in their bounty. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa
Nets are retrieved at dawn. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
Nets are retrieved at dawn. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa
Green nets are sprung across a turquoise sea. Photo: TRAN BAO HOA
Green nets are sprung across a turquoise sea. Photo: Tran Bao Hoa

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