The 'fish listeners' of Phước Hải

June 21, 2022 - 09:56
The fishing village of Phước Hải is home to anglers with 'special powers' - they can hear fish swimming under the sea. 


According to Hiếu, fish listeners should protect their ears to do the job well. — Photo

BÀ RỊA — VŨNG TÀU The fishing village of Phước Hải is home to anglers with 'special powers' - they can hear fish swimming under the sea. 

“I learned the skill from my parents when I was 16 years old,” Bạch Văn Liễu, 80, told Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) online newspaper. “After just one year of following my father, I became famous in the village for my talent.”

”It’s not an easy skill to learn. I have to dive deep and listen carefully with my ears underwater. Many people gave up in the first months of training.

”Outside of strength and perseverance, a person who can hear fish must be hard working and bright to detect and differentiate many kinds of fishes. To hear fishes loud and clear, one must try to listen at night, when there are no ships. But that’s when the water is the coldest,” said Liễu.

In his youth, Liễu can hear fishes from up to 500 metres and sense fishes swimming from kilometres away. He can also predict the number of schools, and once helped a fishing crew catch 4.5 tonnes of fish.

The second generation of 'fish listeners' are even more efficient. According to 61-year-old fisherman Trương Văn Hiếu, he can hear fish from a distance of 500m if the sun was and 200m when it's down.

"If the sun is higher, the sound of the fish spreading through the water gets shorter," explained Hiếu.

Hiếu and his colleague Nguyễn Văn Thu are the only 'fish listeners' left in their generation. Thu said that in 2021 he earned more than VNĐ2 billion (US$86,236). Thu's house is the result of his years of dedication and hard work. 

"If you want to succeed in this business, you must endure the hardships," said Thu.

The veteran fishermen of Long Hải could not determine when or who gave birth to this amazing skill. A folktale said that ancestors thought of a way to wrap food around their bodies and then jump into the sea as bait to lure fish. 

When the fish surrounded the human bait, the diver signalled to the rest of the boat to cast their net and after so many times, the fisherman discovered that the sounds of all fish species were different.

Phước Hải fishermen only catch fish that make noise in the sea. These include squirrel fish, croaker fish, clam fish, pomfret fish and redfish. 

Diving net boats only stay at sea for 1-3 days. When the fish listener locates the school of fish, they notify the crew of the fishing net in a spiral pattern. 

On a diving net boat, the one who listens to the sound of the fish is the most important, as they determine the success or failure of the trip. When the haul is divided, the boat's crew get one part of the revenue, and people like Hiếu, Thu, and Liễu get four parts.

According to Liễu, Hiếu, and Thu, if one does not know how to purify the underwater noise from their ears, one can only hear the buzzing and the rumbling sound of the waves. 

Good fish listeners only need a single breath to determine if there are fish or not and from that sound can know what type of fish they are, how crowded is the school, the direction they are heading and the depth.

All of them say it is difficult to describe exactly how the fish sounds in the sea for everyone to understand. But different fishes have different sounds, and the sounds are also dependent on the time, the water and the size of the school.

Liễu's generation has about 40 'fish listeners' and now in Phước Hải fishing village, there are about 20 young people who are following their fathers' and grandfathers' footsteps.

For Liễu, he is proud that his family have been in the fish listening business for three generations. His son, Bạch Hồng Hoà is also a very famous 'fish listener'. — VNS