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Deadliest Catch: the Khone Falls

Fishermen risk their lives every day, just to catch a meal of fish, in the raging Khone Falls of southern Laos.

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Deadliest Catch in the Khone Falls


Deadliest Catch is a hugely popular TV series on Discovery Channel. This reality show portrays the tough men of crab fishing vessels on the Bering Sea. I wonder if these daredevils would still be so tough if they had to jump in the raging Khone Falls for a handful of fish. Because that’s the daily routine for some fishermen in Southern Laos.

As the sun starts to set over the 4000 Islands in southern Laos, Ronald and I start to worry we might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A couple of fish traps, constructed of wood and bamboo, indicates that there must be some sort of fishing activities going on, but we’ve been here since three o’clock in the afternoon and so far we haven’t seen a living soul.

Just as we’re about to give up and head back to our guesthouse (even in broad daylight, the bike ride across the muddy island of Don Khone is a risky undertaking) a few Lao fishermen emerge from the jungle. The game is on.

From the shore it’s impossible to tell if any of the cages contain fish. So the fishermen take a big leap and holding on to a rope with one arm they use the other to check the traps for fish. If they lose grip, the violent falls will sweep them away instantly.

After dangling in the stream for almost ten minutes, one of the fishermen raises his arm, triumphantly showing us a humongous catfish. His colleagues break out in joyful exclamations, excited as they are about this big meal. A little later they are back on the shore, proudly weighing their catch of the day. It’s a solid nine kilograms. In a cheerful mood they make for their way home, where they will undoubtedly celebrate their success with cigarettes and a big bottle of Lau Lao, the locally distilled whiskey.

Risking your life in the Khone Falls just to catch a daily meal seems to me like a rather extreme way of life. And these guys are no TV celebrities, they don’t drive fancy cars and nobody is asking for their autographs. To me, however, this truly is the Deadliest Catch.

Camera and edit by André van der Stouwe

The catch: a nine kilo Mekong Catfish. Photo by: Ronald de Hommel

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Fishing on Tonle Sap Lake

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Mekong
Videostill Saro

“The last few years the water has been very low”

I was born and raised here. I used to fish for a living. But now I turned to rice farming. There’s only little fish left. That’s because the water level is dropping every year. there’s not enough fish to eat, let alone to sell. The last few years the water has been very low.

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Mekong
Videostill Va Van Tuan

“If you only catch one kilo of fish in a whole day, how can you live?”

Vo Van Tuan (34), fisherman and owner of small fish farm in his floating house in the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam.
I’ve lived here for almost 20 years. There used to be a lot of Fish in this water. Now there are many people and everybody is fishing. So the fish is gone.
Some people did not have enough food. They had to lock their door and leave for the main land.
This river has no future, we can’t fish for a living anymore. People will have to move to the main land where business is good. The local river people have no future here.
Some people had floating fish farms but they got no profit. they had to sell their farms and leave their place.
If you only catch one kilo of fish in a whole day, how can you live?

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Mekong
Videostill Sau Ca

“In ten years we won’t be able to use the Mekong water anymore”

Sau Ca, in his orchard in the Mekong River delta in Southern Vietnam about the importance of the river to him and his society.

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