Leaving town to go home to make fish sauce

QUANG NAM – Graduating from a high-quality English class at Da Nang University of Foreign Languages, Mr. Duc refused an invitation to work as a teacher or tour guide to make fish sauce.

Born in a coastal family with 7 children, when Dinh Cong Duc was seven years old, his father passed away. Experiencing a difficult childhood, Duc was determined to go to university and set up a career in the city. In 2016, Duc graduated from the first high-quality English course at Danang University of Foreign Languages ​​and was introduced as a teacher in Tam Ky City with a starting salary of 7 million VND. A tourism business recruited him to work in Phu Quoc with a monthly salary of 15 million dongs.

Mr. Dinh Cong Duc is filtering fish sauce. Photo: Dac Thanh

For fresh graduates, the above income is said to be quite good, but Germany refuses. After 4 years of studying in Da Nang, Duc no longer wanted to stay in the city. He thinks that his hometown has An Luong fishing wharf, Duy Hai commune, located at the end of the Thu Bon river, which flows into the Cua Dai sea. Every day in the fishing season, boats bring back tens of tons of anchovies, which is very convenient for making fish sauce. Next to the fishing wharf, Duc has a plot of land left by his grandparents of nearly 2,000 m2, which can build a fish sauce production facility.

Returning to his hometown to present his ideas to his relatives, Duc was criticized. His mother told him to study to get a job in the city, then returning to his hometown to make fish sauce was like “burning money”. Listening to Duc’s explanation, gradually his mother supported. “I was born and raised in the countryside where my father made fish sauce. Since childhood, the smell of fish sauce is associated with my childhood, so I want to promote the profession of my homeland,” he explained.

Starting a business with 500 million VND, which he accumulated during his 4 years of university by collecting seafood and transporting it to Da Nang to sell to wholesale markets. From this money, Duc borrowed his brother to build a factory of 800 million dong, taking the place of his hometown and naming the facility “Mam ear Cua Dai”.

Mr. Dinh Cong Duc is inspecting salt tanks. Photo: Dac Thanh

Having no money to buy raw anchovies, Duc took his mother’s red book to the bank to borrow money, but was not accepted. Seeing my determination, my brother lent more than 300 million VND. From the 1st to the 4th lunar month is the anchovy season, fishermen let ships into the wharf to sell fish, and Germany collects salt. With the ratio of three fish to one salt, after 8 to 12 months, Duc started to get fish sauce.

“The anchovies at the beginning of the season are big, with a lot of protein, I buy salt immediately to keep the freshness. When the fish sauce changes to the color of glued wings or amber wood, it is filtered on a bamboo basket, lined with a thin cloth layer. 3-4 times is the standard. The more carefully filtered fish sauce will remove the fish carcass and the quality will be more delicious, “he shared.

Germany’s start-up path is going smoothly, suddenly in 2017, storm Damrey blew away the roofs of two fish ponds, and rain water damaged it. “I lost more than 200 million dongs. The amount of debt increased day by day, sometimes I thought I was going the wrong way,” he said and said that he gave up halfway to pay the debt, so he was determined to follow to the end. To have money to buy fish, he met relatives to borrow money.

When he had the finished product, he introduced it to the termites, but was rejected because of the strange brand name, so he sent a few bottles of fish sauce to introduce the product. After a while, customers buy it, see the quality, so they get used to it. Products are consumed more, Germany begins to profit.

However, two years of Covid-19, the products made could not be sold. Traditional fish sauce has no preservatives, if left for a long time, it turns black, does not look good, it is more difficult to sell. Germany has to send goods everywhere to consign for sale.

The fish sauce produced by Anh Duc is yellow in color. Photo: Dac Thanh

Currently, Mr. Duc has invested nearly 3 billion VND for the facility, with eight concrete salt and fish sauce tanks and dozens of crockery tanks. The entire production area is paved with clean ceramic tiles. Each year, the facility supplies to Quang Nam and Da Nang market more than 30,000 liters of fish sauce and more than 30 tons of seasoning sauce. Each liter of fish sauce costs 100,000 VND, seasoning fish sauce 25,000-30,000 VND/kg.

“Total sales revenue a year is more than a billion dong, after deducting expenses, the profit is about 250 million dong,” Duc said. The establishment creates regular jobs for 7 people, with an income of 6-7 million VND per month, when the season attracts dozens of people.

Looking back on the 7-year journey with several times of near bankruptcy, while many English language classmates work for high-income foreign businesses, living in a townhouse, a 31-year-old man, slim figure, tanned skin said no regrets. Starting a business is busy, taking care of input and output calculations, ensuring product quality and being haunted by the smell of fish all day, but Duc is happy. He is happy to be the master in his own hometown, to continue his father’s profession.

Currently, Mr. Duc is married, has two children, the work at the facility is mainly managed by him, his wife sells drugs, sometimes helps her husband with the books. Every day, he gets up early to check the fish tank, when the workers come, he supervises the production stages. Start-up loans have been paid off, he has accumulated to expand the market to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. “Currently, some businesses are asking for cooperation to sell products in these two cities,” he said.

Mr. Tran Huy Tuong, Head of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Duy Xuyen district, said that in 2022 the district has 3 products that have achieved OCOP (one product per commune program), including Mr. Dinh Cong Duc’s fish sauce. “The district’s appraisal council recognized Germany’s fish sauce as a 4-star OCOP,” he said, commenting that the product is well-invested, beautifully designed, clean, and has standard quality. The district government has submitted documents to the OCOP appraisal board of Quang Nam province for consideration.

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