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14/08/2017 - 10:20

At the estuary

The area where the O Lau estuary meets the Tam Giang lagoon (Thua Thien Hue) is a confluence of fresh and brackish waters. For many generations, populated and prosperous fishing villages have formed and developed. Activities of fishing and exploiting aquatic resources together with the establishment of the Wetland Nature Reserve downstream of this river have created a lively rhythm for the estuary area before the water blends into the sea.

People along the O Lau estuary trade aquatic species

The O Lau River originates from the Truong Son mountain range, with an elevation of approximately 1,000 meters above sea level. Before flowing downstream, the river is merged with the  river My Chanh and the Thac Ma river, contributing more alluvium to the river banks and floodplains!

Fish cages in the river mouth

I used to sail on the O Lau River from upstream Phong My. Perhaps, hundreds of years ago, the residents of the riverside had a “river vending” career, that transported bamboo rafts downstream to form secure stake traps on the Tam Giang lagoon. When flowing to Van Trinh village (Phong Binh commune, Phong Dien district) each floating season, the river water also forms a "mini Southwest Region" of Hue with fishing activities and fresh water fish farming.

The mouth of the river which we want to talk about at the last stop of the O Lau River after ending the "alluvial journey" is the wetland around Cua Lac (Quang Thai, Quang Dien). The wetland area of ​​the O Lau estuary is part of the Tam Giang-Cau Hai lagoon system, consisting of five communes: Dien Hoa, Dien Loc, Phong Chuong (Phong Dien) and Quang Thai, Quang Loi (Quang Dien). Freshwater fish cage farming in communes at the end of the river such as Quang Thai has developed and yielded high income for the locals.

Pham Cong Phuoc, Vice Chairman of Quang Thai Commune People's Committee, said that compared with many other freshwater fish farming areas, the O Lau River has cleaner and “more active” water sources, so not only fishing but fish cage farming is also well developed. With two fishing societies in Trung Lang village, Lai Ha manages more than 50 hectares of water surface in the buffer zone of the Wetland Nature Reserve, downstream of the O Lau River. There are nearly 700 freshwater fish cages, (carp, grass carp, bighead carp) of more than 300 households involved in farming. "Each harvest season, the two villages earn about VND 7 billion. Farmers make full use of the water surface. Compared to rice cultivation in difficult agricultural land such as Quang Thai, the income of fish cage farmers is much more stable," Mr. Phuoc said.

As one of the most successful cage fish farmers in the estuary, Mr. Tran Thanh said that fish cage farming in this area do not have many risks because the water is clean and local people are well technically trained. The only difficulty is the growth of water hyacinths. When the flood is low or when there is no flood, the water hyacinths are not pushed out to the sea, causing the caged fish population in La Ha village to decrease quite a lot. "If I can avoid the water hyacinth, then with 6 grass carp/bighead carp cages, I am sure to have an annual income of 150 million VND," Hien said. He then got on his motorcycle and led us on an excursion in the lagoon area.

The fresh and brackish water is home to mussels and clams. In the middle of the burning sunny noon, fishermen's boats around Cua Lac area are crowded at the dam, transporting aquatic products to shore to sell to traders. For a long time, the waters around Cua Lac Dam have become a "floating market" of the traders. Following this profession, most of the women collecting clams and mussels with rakes or by foot, can earn a few hundred thousand VND per day. I was already feeling quite happy seeing the boats approach shore with plenty of aquatic resources, and it was even a more pleasant surprise to hear the Vice Chairman of Quang Thai People's Committee talk about the idea of opening tours at Tram Chim (Cua Lac) area with boat trips on the lagoon and experiencing a number of fishing activities or mussel and clam raking...

"Revival" of fishing villages

Ngu My Thanh village (Quang Loi commune), as well as other fishing villages, nestle by the Tam Giang lagoon. Here, there existed a pioneering job of making fishing nets by biting lead. Lead was attached to the net, not by using machinery but by using the mouth to bite. For a long time, because of their livelihoods, because of the beautiful meshes for fisheries in the lagoon, the residents of the village suffer from diseases due to lead poisoning.

Recalling the old story, Mr. Phan Dang Bao, Vice Chairman of Quang Loi Commune People's Committee said that the village had "revived." That is true. Making fishing nets has been the traditional profession of fishermen in the village. To change the traditional production of the village, the locals have invested in lead attaching machines. Lead biting is no longer thought of in the minds of the fishing village. 100% of the villagers work in fishery, most of them have switched to making mesh nets or catching fish by stake traps.

Ngu My Thanh Village has now become a fishing village with the most exciting fishing activity in the estuary. Since 2011, the locality has proposed a rearrangement of stake traps in the lagoon, granting rights to fisheries associations to manage with stringent regulations on fishing nets and fishing grounds, Mr. Phan Dang Bao said. Along with the activities of releasing and regenerating aquatic resources, fisheries have been developed in Tam Giang lagoon water running through the village. Recently, with the investment support from the SODI project (71 million VND), Quang Loi has built a nesting system (a kind of stone enclosure), located in Ngu My Thanh area, where aquatic species come and reproduce.

Mr. Bao pointed his hand at the stake trap, saying, "a million dong fish enclosure trap in Ngu My Thanh is not rare!" Depending on the water in the lagoon, the fishermen choose to put in different traps. The traps are made from bamboo and are secured down in the mud. The fish will find their way in. There are two harvests in a year.

Not only fishing and aquaculture, Ngu My Thanh is also known for its lagoon-themed experience tours with boat trips and fishing experiences managed by the Fisheries Association... specifically, by a team consisting of women in the village. "Visitors were mainly recruited by the tours companies in the city and the number is low at approximately 400-500 guests per year. However, it is also the source of many local women’s incomes, and has also contributed to the promotion of estuarine tourism such as Ngu My Thanh," Phan Dang Bao said.

Wetlands of the O Lau estuary are part of the Tam Giang - Cau Hai lagoon system, which has a very high biodiversity with over 900 species of plants and animals; it is an area of where two water sources merge to create a special ecosystem, diverse in species of plants and animals. It is also home to the majority of the aquatic species found in the lagoon, and is one of the stops of seasonal migratory birds. According to statistics, there are about 57 species of birds which migrate here per year (of which 22 species are listed in the European Council’s list of strict protection).

Story, photo: HA NGUYEN

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