FEATURE: Simple methods keep Lao fishing traditions alive

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Many places in Laos are now inundated after several weeks of heavy rain which has caused suffering to many households around the country.

People have lost their crops, belongings and livestock.

But not everywhere has been affected by flooding and some people continue to go about their daily fishing activities in places where river levels have not become too high.

In None village, which sits alongside the Nam Ngum river in Pakngum district about 80km from downtown Vientiane, the locals make the most of their riverine environment, in both the dry and wet seasons.

When the river rises, some people spend all day on the water, using the traditional fishing methods that have kept them supplied with fish all their lives.

Fish is the main source of food for the villagers and they never tire of eating it even though nearby Vientiane has plenty of other kinds of food on offer. They prefer to eat locally-sourced food that they cook themselves and obtain from the river, enjoying every mouthful.

The fishermen in this village continue to use age-old methods to harvest their catch, turning their backs on destructive methods that may kill their livelihoods in the future.

Elsewhere, other people take more than their fair share of fish from the Mekong, using electrical devices, huge traps, explosives and poison to kill large quantities of fish, which is depleting stocks.

But the fisherfolk in None village stick to the simple ways that enable them to catch sufficient fish for their needs in harmony with nature, so that the river continues to provide them with their basic food source.

Every day fishermen can be seen in boats and on the riverbank using various kinds of nets, small traps and hooks to catch the fish they need for their families, as well as some to sell.

One young fisherman, Mr Seeva Luangaphai, says he catches three to eight kilograms of fish a day.

He uses a simple device called a lop. This consists of a bamboo frame with netting stretched over it. Fish enter the wide mouth of the trap but cannot escape from it.

He sets more than 40 traps on both sides of the river and checks them every morning.

He is one of more than 10 people who do the same. They have to be careful to remember where they placed their traps, but everyone is respectful and takes only the fish that collect in their own traps.

The Lao lifestyle is deeply entrenched in river-related activities and many people grow vegetables on the riverbanks, making use of the nutrient-rich soil. But in the rainy season when rivers rise they have to give up their vegetable plots.

However, every morning and evening in None village people still gather by the river, setting their fish traps and nets in the evening and checking them in the morning.

The traps will catch more fish if it rained overnight and the water level rises.

Some fishermen take their boats out on the river before dawn breaks. They take the boat upstream and place a net in the water marked with a plastic bottle tied at one end. Then then go slowly downstream to the end of their fishing area and after that they take in the net, which is called a lai mong.

In the daytime other fishermen can be seen on the riverbank using baited hooks to catch fish. This method is called sit bet. These fisherman have to be really patient as it takes a long time to hook a fish this way.

These methods of fishing don’t bring in a large enough catch to take to market but they serve to preserve the Lao way of life and enable the river to sustain its bounty and satisfy local needs.