Fish hunters find species protection a bigger fish to fry


At 31, Bui Hoai Vu, a resident of Da Nang town (Hoa Bac commune, Hoa Vang district) is one of the most skilled hunters in the Onychostoma gerlachi, a species of cyprinid fish that inhabits inland wetlands in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Vu said that hunting this particular fish has been a long-standing tradition among residents of Ta Lang and Gian Bi villages in Hoa Bac and that hunting skills have been passed down from generation to generation.

To catch the fish, hunters used a homemade pistol with a rubber band attached to a sharp iron spear. They would only shoot adult fish, letting the others go.

To find the right one, hunters had to hold their breath, dip their heads into the stream, watch closely, aim carefully, and pull the trigger.

In many cases, they have dived four or five meters underground to catch the fish.

“We only caught it for food, not for commercial purposes,” Vu said.

the Onychostoma gerlachi in Hoa Bac Commune of Hoa Vang District in Da Nang City. Photo by VnExpress / Thanh Dong

He said the fish was a specialty with its tasty meat and because it was available in abundance in nature, locals could hunt it for food all year round while “ensuring sustainability”.

But the situation has changed dramatically over the past decade, Vu laments.

As the fame of the cyprinid fish in Hoa Bac spread widely, many people from other places began to catch it with the help of electricity and explosives, killing large amounts in one fell swoop. It was no longer viable.

The situation even worsened after a 30 km (18.6 mile) route from downtown Da Nang to Hoa Bac was improved, drawing more visitors to the mountainous commune. As more and more tourists arrive, restaurants have rushed to serve the best local specialty: cyprinid fish.

As demand for fish continued to increase, its stocks continued to deplete.

These days, because fish have become scarce, its market price has dropped from 280,000 VND to 400,000 VND ($ 17.64).

The more expensive the fish, the less there is in nature.

Vu said that in the past he could hunt ten kilograms of fish a day, but the catch has dropped to only one kilogram. As a tour guide, Vu takes tourists on hikes along streams for hours. These days he has a hard time showing them the famous carp in the wild.

Thu, the owner of a grocery store in Hoa Bac, said about two decades ago that a local could accidentally step on a cyprinid while wading in a stream. Fish was a regular source of food for many families in the town, she said.

As a child, she and other neighborhood kids got together to catch the fish together and roasted them over charcoal, Thu remembers wistfully.

“Children these days can never have such an experience,” she said.

Thu points to an area of ​​a stream where there used to be many Onychostoma gerlachi in the commune of Hoa Bac.  Photo by VnExpress / Nguyen Dong

Thu points to an area of ​​streams where there were once many Onychostoma gerlachi in the past in the commune of Hoa Bac. Photo by VnExpress / Nguyen Dong

At the end of last month, Vu joined other local residents at the home of Dinh Van Nhu, a local official, for a meeting aimed at establishing a volunteer team of around 30 members to protect and sustainably use the Onychostoma gerlachi fish.

The project was initiated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in collaboration with local authorities. The GEF describes itself as the largest multilateral trust fund aimed at enabling developing countries to invest in nature, supporting the implementation of major international environmental conventions on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals, desertification and other similar topics.

Most of the volunteers participating in the project are fish hunters like Vu. They know all the streams in the area inside out, which would help them in their new job – protecting their old prey.

Volunteers should check and report wrongdoing such as the use of electricity and explosives or fine mesh netting in fishing. They can report these violations immediately or take pictures for local authorities to deal with.

Volunteers from a team to protect and sustainably exploit the fish Onychostoma gerlachi receive a homemade gun with a rubber band attached to a sharp iron spear, a tool to catch only adult fish from Truong Thanh Nhan, vice president of the commune by Hoa Bac, November 2021. Photo by VnExpress / Nguyen Dong

Volunteers in a team to protect and sustainably exploit the Onychostoma gerlachi the fish are given a homemade pistol with a rubber band attached to a sharp iron spear, a tool for catching only adult fish from Truong Thanh Nhan, vice president of Hoa Bac commune, November 2021. Photo by VnExpress / Nguyen Dong

Chu Manh Trinh, GEF Hoa Bac project team leader, who was successful with a stone crab conservation project on Cham Island off the coast of central Quang Nam province, said that in order to conserve the Onychostoma gerlachialong with other fish species in the region, local people should use traditional fishing tools and avoid catching them during the breeding season.

Truong Thanh Nhan, vice president of Hoa Bac commune, said if it had not been for the pandemic, the team will conserve and ensure sustainable exploitation of the Onychostoma gerlachi the fish would have been established earlier.

Communal authorities should send volunteers to Cham Island to learn from the stone crab conservation model there. One of the crucial steps is to ensure that only crabs that have reached their maximum size are caught and eaten.

Nhan said difficulties have arisen in protecting the fish as it lives in waterways and there is no way to prevent people from fishing it all the time.

Hoa Bac has become an attractive tourist destination thanks to its cool climate and charming landscapes, as well as a place where the culture of the Katu ethnic group is well preserved.

If the Onychostoma gerlachi the fish is well preserved, there would be one more reason to attract visitors to the town on eco-responsible tours.

Once this is done, the inhabitants will have more income from tourism services and have another source of consumers for their agricultural products.

However, he cautioned: “Fish is a species that cannot be cultivated; it is only found in the wild, so if it is fished freely without any restrictions, the source will run out soon. “

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