|Net income: Tran Duc Hien prepares his net in Tam Giang-Cau Hai lagoon system, Phu Loc District. The district, situated at the end of the largest lagoon system in Southeast Asia, will soon become a centre for eco-tourism.
Families living near the country's largest lagoon have made a living from fishing for generations. Today, community-based tourism offers them the chance to earn more money and also preserve their resources. Cong Thanh reports.
Evening is the start of the day for fishermen in Tam Giang and Cau Hai lagoons in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, the country's largest lagoon area.
Tran Duc Hien, 32, travels as far as 8km by boat to place his traps, called lo, and waits until 2am for them to lure shrimp.
"We usually catch 2kg of shrimp every night and sell it for VND400,000 (nearly US$20) at the market in the morning," said his wife Nguyen Thi Chi.
The Thua Thien-Hue plain along the sea coast has many lagoons, such as those of Tam Giang, Thuy Tu and Lap An, where almost all the rivers of the province converge before flowing into the sea through the mouths of Thuan An and Tu Hien or through the great lagoon of Lang Co.
The Tam Giang-Cau Hai lagoon system, the largest lagoon system in Southeast Asia, covers the districts of Phong Dien, Quang Dien, Huong Tra, Phu Vang and Phu Loc and is well known for its biodiversity, with 21 endangered species and 921 water species, including rare fish and plants.
It also supplies food and shelter to 73 migrating bird species.
Hien, who was born and grew up in Phu Loc District, returned to his native village after working for a time in HCM City. Situated at the end of the Tam Giang-Cau Hai lagoon system, the small village has a population of about 300. Approximately 40 of them make a living from fishing, including his parents, who are in their seventies.
Hien typically earns VND5 million a month from catching seafood in the lagoons, "quite a good income" for someone in the village. On a good day in the summer, he and his wife can make as much as VND500,000. However, the winter storm season between October and December is "the worst time" and the couple must set aside money to make sure they have enough to survive during those months.
The lagoon has nourished generations. Nguyen Thi Chanh, 70, raised nine children by fishing there.
"Our lives revolve around fishing in the lagoon. Villagers don't have other trades, rice farms or gardens. We depend on fishing because we don't have pensions or savings," Chanh said.
But she also suggested that this traditional occupation was disappearing. Today, only two of her six children fish in the lagoon.
"Young people now have chances to get better jobs with higher income. Only the elderly and uneducated persons still make their lives from the traditional job," Chanh said.
|Income source : Many local people depend on fishing to earn their livelihood. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
Hien's VND10 million boat is too small to go very far, but a larger boat would cost three times as much. Like many of his neighbours, he finds it difficult to procure such funds.
Nguyen Thi Mai, 55, said villagers had to borrow "at least VND30 million" from local social wellfare banks to build boats. They were usually able to pay back the loan in three years, but bad weather, particularly storms would "bankrupt" them, Mai said.
Moreover, during the monsoon season between October and March, when fishermen cannot sail their boats due to the strong winds, there are few profits to be made.
"Our boat is small and likely to capsize in the wind and big waves. This means that we make nothing on windy days so my family is in debt to vendors in the market," said Van Thi Dong, 69. "Almost all fishermen in the village purchase on the nod on bad weather days. We buy some rice and food from private groceries and then pay for it by selling fish another day."
|Night job: Villagers fishing at the lagoon leave on their boats in early evening and often do not return home until the early hours of the morning. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh
A major change is coming to the quiet village. The central province plans to make Phu Loc District a key location for eco-tours by 2020, and a community-based programme aims to protect the fish and animal life in 307ha of Tam Giang-Cau Hai lagoons.
"We have encouraged local people to do fishing and tourism with an eye towards sustainable development. We want to balance fishing and community-based tourism," said Nguyen Van Manh, vice chairman of the district's People's Committee.
Over 200,000 tourists come to the district a year to explore Cau Hai Lagoon, Bach Ma National Park and the mangrove swamp in the Bu Lu river estuary. Singapore's Banyan Tree has invested US$875 million in resorts and a golf course.
Hien estimates he could earn VND500,000 or even VND1 million from carrying tourists around the lagoon.
"I could make as much money from community-based tourism as fishing," he said. "It's the best way of protecting seafood sources while creating a good income for villagers." — VNS