Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fishing In Isaan - Two Different Ways



Raising A Large Dip Net In Isaan
Last week I shared my experience of watching two Monks and some Tahsang Village men catching fish by draining the water and feeling around for the fish in the resulting muck.  That is one way to go fishing here in Isaan.

Another way to catch fish is to dip net for them.  The Mekong River is about 40 Km from here and serves as the border between Thailand and the Lao People's Democratic Republic.  The Mekong River is one of the planet's greatest rivers.  Besides supporting thriving international river commerce. the Mekong River supports the peoples of China, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam with its fish stocks.

However here in Isaan, most of the wild fish that is caught is not from the mighty Mekong River or even in rivers of much less size or fame.  There are not many streams to catch fish in either.  The wild fish are mainly caught in drainage ditches, drainage sloughs, mud holes, and flood plains.

In Isaan, rain typically falls from may until October.  In between, very little rain falls.  However, the land is flat and does not drain very well.  By the time that the natural monsoonal rains stop in October, the land is saturated, the rivers are flooding, and there is plenty of standing water.  The Mekong River floods which backs up the small streams that feed it from the interior of Isaan.  Since the water can not drain quickly into the Mekong or other waterways flowing to the south, the water level on floodplains of Isaan will rise dramatically.  This in turn supports the growth and reproduction of wild fish species.  The higher water levels allow the fish to migrate and feed upon recently submerged vegetation.  In addition to being a food source for the fish the submerged vegetation provides shelter for breeding and raising young fish.

In September when water levels are about their highest and into January when water levels have diminished greatly to the point that fishing isn't possible, you will find people fishing the drainage ditches  drainage sloughs, mud holes, and floodplains.  In many areas, people construct platforms out of bamboo from where they drop and raise nets to the water below.  In other locations people will wade out into the water to drop and raise nets that they have attached to a long bamboo pole or they will cast a large nylon net onto the waters to try to catch fish.

Fishing Platforms Outside of Baan Tahsang (Tahsang Village)
Duang's sister, as I pointed out in an earlier blog, had a large ditch dug along her back property line on the Kumphawapi floodplain.  Since her neighbors did the same thing there is now a good place for fishing for a better part of the year.  I had not been out to her place in wto years and I was shocked to see how many fishing platforms had been constructed.  When I arrived my sister-in-law's yard was filled with motorbikes and pick up trucks.  I quickly found out that the vehicles belonged to people fishing in the new ditch or slough.  I thought that perhaps my in-laws had set up a fish for fee business or at least park for a fee business.  They looked at me like I was crazy and through Duang I found out that all the people were family. Since Duang has 23 Aunts and Uncles along with 96 cousins just on her side of the family, it is easy to understand how a place could get crowded with "family".

Duang went off to the village to get her hair done and I wandered around taking photographs.

Fishing - Isaan Style   I Guess Since No Bait Is Used, There Is No Need To Stay Awake
On the day that I visited the site, people were using drop nets and throwing nets to catch fish.  In both techniques, no bait was used.  In the case of the drop nets, the people were using very large nets that were rigged off of their fishing platform.  Levers, fulcrums, and pulleys were used to provide mechanical advantages for raising and lowering the nets.  Other than the corrugated metal used in some of the platforms for roofing all the materials were local. Three pieces of thin walled tubing were welded together to create the each of the two required combination pin connection and journal bearing for the bamboo poles of the net boom and bamboo poles of the base of the platform.  I had seen young men performing welding repairs on some farm equipment at the Tahsang Village miller's house, so I suspect he was the source of these vital metal connections.  Many of the fishing platforms had little shelters built on them where the fishermen could eat, drink, and fish out of the direct sun light.  Oh, some of the fishermen also slept in the shelters.

When the fisherman thinks he has waited long enough, or when he wakes up, he will raise the net to determine if he has caught any fish.  If he has not, the net is lowered and the wait will start again.  If he has caught some fish he will use a net on the end of a long bamboo pole to scoop them up.  The fish are then placed in a bucket of water kept in the shade.  We are not talking about catching very big fish - the vast majority of the fish are around 4 to 6 inches long (10 to 15 cm).  There are no size limits on the catch with people keeping fish that would be too small to even use as bait in the USA.  There is no license required to fish.

Wakened From His Nap, Lao Loum Fisherman Checks His Net
Many of the larger sized fish never make it to the bucket, they are cooked and eaten on site.  Fishing along the embankment was a family gathering with people of all ages eating, drinking, gossiping, and some people actually fishing.  It was a great big picnic if not a party.

Fresh Fish Being Grilled
Some of the men were using hand nets to work sections of the slough.  Fish fences had been set along the ditch to encourage the fish to travel along certain routes.  The men using the hand nets collaborated to take advantage of the fences and the placement of their nets to trap the fish.

Casting Their Nets Upon The Waters In Isaan
 Once the nets had sunk to the bottom, the fishermen would pull them in.  Soon they would be holding a mass of nylon netting coated and dripping with chocolate colored muck.  Sometimes they would even find a couple of small fish in the last bit of the net once the muck was washed away.  The small fish would be placed in a small fisherman's creel floating near the fisherman,  The creel is woven from strips of local hardwood and is kept afloat by lashing empty 1.5 liter plastic bottles to it. One of Duang's uncles, most likely more than one, weaves these creels in Tahsang Village.  I have watched and photographed other villagers making the throwing nets.  Again, the people exhibit an amazing degree of self-reliance as well as self sufficiency.

Starting To Haul Net With Floating Creel Close By

Getting Down to the Business End of the Net



Most of the fishermen had completed fishing when I headed back from the slough to go to my in-law's house.  On my way back to the house I came upon, what for me was an extraordinary scene.  Near where the motorbikes and pick up trucks were parked, a tarp had been placed on the ground.  All the buckets and creels had been emptied on top of the tarp.  People were sorting through the fish and creating at least twelve equal piles of fish for the people to take home with them.  The individual extended family members were cooperating for the greater overall good of the family.  This was yet another example of the sharing and caring nature of the Lao Loum people here in Isaan.


Dividing Up The Day's Catch

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