|Fishermen of Phu Hai (Phu Vang) pushing their boat out to sea. Photo: Tuan Kiet
1. Dozens of people ashore are lining up one after another with a rope half the size of an adult's wrist, incessantly shouting to hold on to the bamboo boat afar. Somewhere, eyes get moist...
Those images were live-streamed by Cuong on his Facebook page, making anyone who watched it feel heartbroken. Each whitecap was pounding hard; the monsoon came with each gust, causing the bamboo boat to rock and then sink altogether. Fortunately, rescued by the villagers, the greatest asset of the fisherman's life was pulled ashore. Above all, the three people on that boat were safe in the bitter cold of the winter day.
For Hao, one of the "main characters", who escaped the scythe of death, the ferocity of the wave is not strange to him. He is my childhood friend in the coastal village of Ngu Dien, Phong Dien. Many a time did I drink wine with him by moonlight, waiting for fresh catches of herring.
|The boat back after an inshore fishing trip
Leaving school early, Hao hung around the village, clinging to the bamboo boat his father left to earn a living. In his teens, he went to sea, now nearing 40. His seniority is not short, so his letting the boat sink a few hundred meters from shore came as a big surprise to me. “When the boat approached shore, the monsoon caused the waves to rise, splashing water into the compartment. The engine was off, and we couldn't steer, so we had to resign ourselves to our fate," Hao said, then clicked his tongue, “It was because we took risks. In heavy seas, going out to sea would be dangerous."
It is easy to understand Hao's risk when his family has needed "famine relief" in the village for years. Five mouths to feed depend entirely on the inshore fishing bamboo boat. The windy weather means that the meal lacks a "salty taste".
For fishermen in the coastal area, the sea seems to gradually become exhausted over the years. The waves crash steadily, but the fish and shrimp are running out. After every fishing trip, fish caught are now in single figures. The mackerel, bee fish, belt fish... as big as an adult's calf seem to become a distant memory. “Because of scarce fish and shrimp, we risk going out to sea in rough seas. In rough seas, fish will swim to shore to seek food, fishing at this time promises a compartment full of fish," Hao shared.
Despite the exhaustion of many things, the sea remains a place that protects many lives. Cuong is a typical example.
| Sea fishing for Hoa has become a passion
Originally as a skilled shoemaker, he earned a livelihood in the magnificent cities. His salary was enough to support himself, but when getting married, he became worse off. Leaving behind the bustling image of the streets and the mesmerizing red and blue electric lights by nightfall, Cuong took his wife and children back to the coastal native village of Dien Hoa Commune, Phong Dien. “After getting married and having young children, we ran into many difficulties. When the goods sold well, we earned an average income, but when they were unsalable, the family had to worry about each meal. Living away from home, when sick, we didn't know who to turn to," Cuong said.
Back to his native village, Cuong lives with his parents in a fortified house close to the shore, the asset he accumulated and contributed to building with his family after years of making a living in a faraway city. Now he can hear the murmur of the waves, the sound after more than a decade of living away from the native village.
Cuong showed me a photo of his boat mate sitting amid the vast sea waves, holding a stray fish in his hand with a satisfied smile. He said that only when he returned to his native village and worked as a fisherman can he feel freedom. The feeling of chasing fish and shrimp at the crack of dawn or dusk brings excitement; it is not simply earning a living but also an experience.
“Born into a family of fishing, in my childhood, I followed my father for fishing squid and casting nets. For my livelihood, I was back to shore. But now, also for the sake of food, clothes, and money, I rely on the sea. During times of heavy seas, I work as a mason to earn extra income," Cuong said.
2. The vast deep sea is now calm, now angry. Born on the shore, I have more or less savored the salty taste of the tide.
On a foggy morning, the 14 CV boat arrived at the fishing area nearby Hoa chose. A dune and row of willows to the west were visible to the naked eye. Hoa and his boat mate cast nets while live-streaming on his Facebook page. He interacted with "viewers" to make the sea trip even more interesting.
| Joy with manna from sea
Hoa did not choose deep-sea fishing as a job, but life anchored him ashore. When his father died, he had to return to his native village to care for his elderly mother. And since then, or rather, since he quit his job as a cook to cling to the sea waves, it has been nearly a decade. Hoa grasps the tide, fish, and shrimp. For herring, a schooling fish net should be cast; for hairtail, net 2 cast. "The Bombay duck comes into season, but the harvest fails, probably because of heavy seas. Nowadays, few people go to sea, so after each fishing trip, fish and shrimp are bought at high prices. After several live-streams, even though the boat has not yet arrived ashore, many people had placed orders," Hoa said.
According to the estimate, in the village, only a handful of people go out to sea, and young people like Hoa are even rarer. Gradually, fewer old fishermen are on the sea, and fewer boats are also on the golden sand. "If I want to stick with fishing, I must have another job to support it; otherwise, in heavy seas, I will run into difficulties," Hoa shared.
The fishing trip that day only brought in a basket of sardines of little value, but Hoa said he would continue to be attached to the tide because deep-sea fishing for him is now a passion.
According to the statistics, fishermen's marine exploitation output mostly rises year by year. But those numbers cannot, without question, help readers visualize the hardships of a fisherman's life. So far the story of output reaching the consumer market has been and will put great pressure on fishermen.
There is no denying that the functional agencies and local governments always encourage, accompany, and support fishermen on every fishing trip, especially offshore fishing. However, the sea does not always please people...
The 800-horsepower ship was about 500 meters from Thuan An Port. At the pier, small traders stood waiting, but observing the eyes of the fishermen, they had to pack up their baskets.
My query about output after the fishing trip unknowingly touched Tam's pain. The captain did not answer but looked towards the space of the sea. From the freezer compartment, his boat mate lifted about 5 baskets of belt fish; each fish is about the size of 3 fingers. Tam said, "Hope for the next sea trip."
.... Tam's words help me visualize the fishermen's strong faith in the sea. Somewhere ashore can be heard a sigh, but in the open sea, boats still bravely surf waves every day. The bamboo boats afloat in the ocean nurture the dreams of human life ashore.
Currently, the total of registered fishing boats in the province is 676. There are about 2,000 coastal and lagoon boats, 433 of which are offshore fishing boats with a length of 15 meters or more. In 2023, 392 fishing boats registered for offshore exploitation, and so far about 1,439 sea trips have participated in offshore exploitation; the number of days present offshore reached 11,512 per boat.