Hunting season for ‘tree climbing fish’

Thanh Hoa – fishermen are in the middle of hunting mudskippers, which not only swim and dive underwater, but also run and jump on the ground and climb trees.

One morning in mid-March, on the coastal mudflats and tiger forest, parrots in Da Loc commune, Hau Loc district, dozens of fishermen carrying bamboo baskets, plastic cans, surfboards, fishing rods, traps… to catch them. mudskipper (also known as whistle fish, squishy).

This is a fish of the white goby family, considered one of the “weirdest fish on the planet” when it has both gills and lungs. They can live in the water, in the mud or run around on land, even climb trees when looking for food. Each adult is 10-15 cm long, about the size of a finger.

Mudfish live along the marshes at estuaries, muddy beaches, with a submerged depth of no more than two meters. The tidal zone of coastal communes of Hau Loc district such as Da Loc, Ngu Loc, Hai Loc, Minh Loc is the place where this species is distributed the most. Mosquitoes often burrow under the mud 20-30 cm deep to reside, each cave has several fish. When the tide goes out, they will come out of their burrows to feed.

Mudfish gather to sunbathe on a mound in early February when the breeding season comes.  Photo: Le Hoang
Mudfish concentrates on sunbathing on a mound of land. Photo: Le Hoang

With her hands quickly digging deep under the black, mushy mud, Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong (45 years old, Da Loc commune, Hau Loc district) caught two fish at the same time. Swimming through the water to wash the thin layer of mud that still stuck around the fish’s body, she threw it into the basket on her waist and then looked around again. Today, she went to the sea from 9 am, past noon, she earned a basket back.

Catching mudskippers requires experience and ingenuity, so women are mainly involved, a few are men and children when they don’t go to school. According to Phuong, the “process” of catching fish will start from discovering the whereabouts of the fish, then digging in the mud. Hearing the noise, the fish rushed out of the cave and was caught in a basket.

“Not only does it have to be technical, but it’s also very hard to catch fish, but it’s not too difficult, but moving continuously on the knee-deep mudflats and raking the mud is very hard,” said a fisherman named Loan.

To catch mudskippers, fishermen cannot wear gloves because it is difficult to manipulate. Without protective gear, they sometimes touch pieces of crockery, sharp objects or oyster or snail shells, causing skin tears and bleeding. Some people were also injured by snake bites or accidentally stepped on poisonous seafood, but fortunately, no one was in danger of life.

Groups of women in Da Loc every day go to the jungle to dig out mud and catch mudskippers.  Photo: Le Hoang
Groups of women in Da Loc daily go to the jungle to dig mud and catch mudskippers. Photo: Le Hoang

Mudfish hunting in Hau Loc appeared in the past, so there are many skilled workers. In addition to skilled burrowers like Phuong, many hunters (mostly men) fish with fishing rods or traps.

Mr. Dang Van Quan, who has more than 30 years of working as a mudfish hunter in Da Loc commune, said he often made sharp clamps from bent bamboo stalks to trap fish. The trap is about 40 cm high, the bottom is knotted with a rope. Every day, after breakfast, he brought his traps and waded through the mud to find fish burrows to place. When the fish emerges to look for food, swimming through will get entangled in the rope, falling into a trap. The worker than just had to go back and remove the “trophy”.

Mr. Quan has more than 100 traps used to catch mudfish. Every day he usually hunts for 5-7 hours depending on the water (the tide rises and falls), collects approximately 2 kg of fish, the winning meal can be more than 3 kg. With the selling price of 180,000-200,000 VND per kilogram, Mr. Quan earns nearly half a million VND a day.

Hunter Dang Van Quan collected a lot of fish after a day of setting traps on the coastal mud.  Photo: Le Hoang
Hunter Dang Van Quan collected a lot of fish after a day of setting traps on the coastal mud. Photo: Le Hoang

Mussel season usually lasts from after the Lunar New Year to the fifth lunar month every year. At the end of spring, fish multiply and become very fatty, so it is also the most effective time to hunt.

Mudfish with fragrant and greasy meat is often stored, grilled, and cooked in sour soup by local people. In the past, fish was mainly used by people as food in daily life, but now it is considered a specialty. in many restaurants. Fish is usually bought by traders on the spot, a few sold in local markets around the area. The fresh kind can be exported to China, Japan…

Mudidae belongs to the family of white gobies, found mainly in estuaries and tropical coastal areas such as India, Australia or Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam… In Thanh Hoa, whistle fish appear a lot in the coastal areas of Hau Loc, Nga Son, Quang Xuong and Nghi Son districts.

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