Ca Mau is a province with a system of rivers and canals crossed with a total length of more than 7,000 km, made up for 1/3 of total length of the Mekong River Delta and it is also a large fishery area of approximately 71,000 km2. The vast Ca Mau River system is divided into two large groups of estuaries, one flowing to the West Sea (Cua Lon, Ong Doc and Dong Cung rivers) and one flowing to the East Sea (Bo De, Tam Giang flowing to Ho Rui gate, etc.), that formed large river mouths and hundreds of different river and canal systems.
Each time visiting Ca Mau, if travelers have chance to drift on boat on the rivers and estuaries, they will learn and experience the life of people associated with the river all the time of year. Here, owning to the vast waterways, there are many different fishing trades created as fishing, netting, gillnetting, trawling, clawing, bottom gillnetting ,etc. particularly bottom gillnetting.
Daily life rhythm of fishers on the bottom gillnetting
Ca Mau’s bottom gillnetting is divided into three types as “day hang cam” (narrow bottom gillnetting) (also known as “narrow gillnetting”), “day hang be” (raft bottom gillnetting) and “day hang khoi” (offshore bottom gillnetting). The narrow bottom gillnetting is located in places where the water depth is from 15 – 16m, the piles are set from 17 – 18 m into the riverbed, fixed a place to arrange the queue distance from 2 to 10 mouths of gillnetting across the river to drop the nets and pull the flow of fish and scrimp swiftly flowing in the water into the mouths of bottom gillnetting.
The raft bottom gillnetting is more particular, usually located in deep river bed with swiftly flowing water, the brackets of raft bottom gillnetting are linked by floating boats on the river surface. Normally, there are 2 or 3 bottom gillnetting owners cooperated in raft gillnetting and supported each other in the business and difficulties in daily life as well. Mr. Cang, who works in raft bottom gillnetting in Tam Giang Tay said, “Sometimes we do not have to dive the raft bottom gillnetting at the bottom of a riverbed where it cannot dive the gillnetting piles. Raft gillnetting piles can dive anywhere, as long as the location with more fish and shrimps swiftly flowing, and specifically less cost”. The favorable characteristics of raft bottom gillnetting is reasonable cost and flexible removal, thus, the owner of bottom gillnetting can move from one place to another place if the fish flows in the existing gillnetting piles become less.
Hut friends on the offshore bottom gillnetting
While the narrow gillnetting and raft bottom gillnetting are located on the riverbed, the offshore gillnetting is different because it is located in the offshore, approximately 8 – 20km away from the mainland. People spread the mouths of gillnetting in the sea ditch of 25m deep. The wide mouth of gillnetting is made of long net, fixed tail, mound between the two bottom gillnetting piles that were plugged deep into the profound. Offshore gillnetting can be understood as a relatively hard-working profession; fishers have to live at the strong wave front and wind. To make a long row of high offshore gillnetting in the middle of the ocean, it is a struggle of confronting the Nature to take advantage of the wind, water and stream to dive huge piles into the ocean.
The profession of offshore gillnetting requires a lot of workforce involved, for example, the person who pays the construction of bottom gillnetting, called as the owner of bottom gillnetting; the person who transports of fish and shrimp, supplies food and water from the boats to the bottom gillnetting location, called as “boat friends”; the person who guards and waits in the hut until the convenient flow, to drop the nets and pull the bottom gillnetting, called as “hut friends”. Due to the characteristics of the profession, “hut friends” must be well-experienced in the sea, can swim well and brave to cope with the big waves and especially they must live far from home. They settled on the small huts hanging above the bottom gillnetting piles. Each hut is approximately 4 – 10m2 shared the space with 2- 3 “hut friends” together work on the gillnetting piles, harvest, manage and protect the offshore bottom gillnetting piles. The ropes are tangled between the bottom piles and are the only means for the “hut friends” to move back and forth and to drop the nets. Movements as walking on a rope, swinging, dropping the nets, pulling swiftly prove the ingenuity and proficiency of their work that could compare with a circus performer on the sea. The profession of the “hut friends” is not only that simply, they also have to stay up late, get up early, watch the flow, wash the bottom gillnetting and then dry it up. In their idle time, they also try to find some dried fish such as pineapple fish, catfish, small fish, etc. to make more income for the family or when they let the soul in the water, they can hum a few sentences freely, to ease the nostalgia of wife and children who are waiting in the main land.
There are usually two flows each month to allow fishermen to drop the nets. Fish and shrimp swiftly flowing in the water into the mouths of bottom gillnetting. In the season of the flow running to the bottom gillnetting, boat owners are allowed to access and to collect aquatic products, food supply, tobacco, drinking water, etc. for the “hut friends”. At such times, when the boats return to the mainland, they will carry the aquatic resources of their “hut friends” and share to their loved ones at home. The joy in the face of women when they enthusiastically classify fish, crabs, shrimp and squid to choose which one to sell the market, which one to make fish sauce in respectful manner because such products is the result of dropped sweat of their husbands and sons in families.
Today, Ca Mau has thousands of bottom gillnetting mouths at the seaports as Cai Doi Vam (Phu Tan district) and Rach Tau (Ngoc Hien district). Follow the “ship friends” to the location of bottom gillnetting, traveler not only watch the vast of offshore but also feel the wonderful difference of the day and night of bottom gillnetting among big waves and winds. Traveler should experience the “bird nest” hut, riskily swing body through the ropes connecting the bottom gillnetting and join hands with friends in hut and friends in boat, to pull the heavy fishing net.
Though the river of peace, the sea of huge waves and storms, the water always contained the flow of life, the narrow gillnetting, raft gillnetting and offshore bottom gillnetting still catch flows of fish and scrimps which is bestowed by the Nature for the sea of the Southernmost of nation. Therefore, the spirit of ocean attachment, the love with waves is a restless love of the people of Ca Mau.
Photo and article: Duong Kim Chuyen