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The Fishermen of Van Phong Bay

The bay is home to many floating fishing villages where numerous varieties of crustaceans and fish are farmed in deep waters.

On the horizon small iron huts float lazily on the water. Fish eagles circle the skies and the distant sound of aged boat engines echoes the silence as the salt air whips the ocean into life.

These are the waters of Van Phong Bay, a 5,000-hectare marine wonderland 100kms north of Nha Trang containing a unique archipelago that include the islands of Son Dung, Khai Luong, Vinh Yen and Hon Ong.

The bay, once a desired location for a marine harbor at the end of the nineteenth century, and the archipelago became a base for explorer Jacques Cousteau during his time spent as a marine cartographer in Vietnam.

The bay is home to many floating fishing villages where numerous varieties of crustaceans and fish are farmed in deep waters.

Rotten wooden beams lie on softly bobbing pontoons. They provide the basic framework for the fishing nets which plunge meters into the ocean’s depths. Guard dogs patrol the perimeters of the pens, fearless in their protection and frightening in their ferocity.

In searing heat the men work quickly coiling ropes, repairing nets and collecting and sorting their catch. They dive into the fishing pens to collect an array of lobsters, crayfish, oysters and cuttlefish.

A thin plastic tube attached to a diesel-generated oxygen supply snakes its way along the planks and into the hands of a fisherman who blows long breaths down its length, checking for any tangles in the line. Wrapping the tube around his back, he adjusts his mask and plunges into the water.

The silence of the bay is only broken by the soft purring of the generator. For what seems like an eternity, the diver works away, the only evidence being occasional bubbles that escape to the surface and the soft tugging of the oxygen line. Eventually his silhouette emerges and he powers up, breaking the surface with lobsters in hand.

All over the fishing village, men plunge into the fishing pens creating a synchronized display of disappearing acts as they are swallowed by the water. Reappearing one after another, they come to the surface hands full of the ocean’s delights.

With incredible agility, a fisherman leaps up on to the beams, water dripping from his body.

Sorting the contents of his net, the fisherman wastes no time under the relentless sun as he boards a small bamboo boat and disappears into the horizon with his catch, headed for the market.

By Nikki Bisenieks, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the June 15th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)

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