Anchovies anyone? Exotic fish dance unfolds off a Vietnam islet

Lensman Tran Bao Hoa has produced a series of stunning photographs as fishermen on a central Vietnam islet catch anchovies.

In Phu Yen, a poverty-hit coastal province with a population of around 860,000, most local residents head out to sea and catch seafood. Their boats are their lifeline.

After receiving a tipoff from his friend, a Phu Yen native, about the yearly migration of fishermen from across the province to Hon Yen Islet for the busiest anchovy harvesting season of the year every June, Hoa decided to capture their daily lives during this period.

The islet is around 15 kilometers to the north of Tuy Hoa, the capital of Phu Yen. It is home to thousands of canaries, explaining its name.

A flock of seagulls fly high above the sky while a group of fishermen pull out fishing nets to harvest anchovies, considered a specialty of the central coastal region and used to produce the quintessential Vietnamese condiment – fish sauce.

The photo collection, which he called ‘Fishing dance’ was compiled in June last year, when veteran fishermen from across the province flocked to Hon Yen to catch hundreds of thousands of kilograms of these tiny fish to supply eateries throughout the country.

The project took him around a month and a half. Every day, he packed up his bags and drove his motorbike for around 70 kilometers from his home in Quy Nhon, a beach town in the central province of Binh Dinh, to reach Hon Yen.

Hidden gem: For many years now, Hon Yen has been attracting young travelers with its pristine beauty and carpets of coral reefs rising up during low tide. For photographers in particular, the small islet is the new land to discover. 

Going out to sea: Fishermen head to the sea and start their job.

Around 2 p.m. every day, the fishermen started casting their fishing nets. But it was not until night fell that the real work began. It was around 9 p.m. that fishermen would end their work and head back to shore.

Glistening green: A fishing crew turns on lights to attract schools of anchovies.

Because anchovies swim at 30-40m below the surface, headlamps are used to attract the fish at night and the fishermen use long sticks to herd them toward their nets.

"A fishing crew can gather 10-20 batches of anchovies during each outing. Each batch weighs 20kg and is worth about VND1 million ($43)," one fisherman told Hoa.

Job satisfaction: Smiles spread across fishermen’s faces as they draw the catch in.

During his photography project, Hoa kept a close eye on the weather forecast everyday and got to know the fishing habits of local residents there. There were days things did not go well. He would return empty-handed as the fishermen wouldn’t pull out fishing nets due to heavy rains.  

However, Hoa said, "this trip will forever be imprinted in me. Each one of my photos is a fond memory."

Calling it a day: Nets are retrieved at dawn

Heart of the matter: Large green nets form heart shapes in turquoise waters as they are spread out before being drawn in to harvest the anchovy.

Hoa's photo collection earned him second place at the 2018 Vietnam Heritage photography contest held by Vietnam Heritage Association.

Story by Nguyen Quy

Photos by Tran Bao Hoa