The Phan Thiet Fish Market – A Photo Essay

It’s just after four in the morning. We open the van door and are immediately greeted by an overpowering smell of fish and brine and diesel that hits us like a wall. Bright lights slice through the darkness to reveal a flurry of activity, a strange, purposeful symphony that is the Phan Thiet Fish Market.

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The Bay of Phan Thiet is recognized as one of Vietnam’s most productive fisheries, with more than 50,000 tons a year of seafood hauled up from its waters.

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The 2,000 or so registered trawlers often go out for weeks, returning only when their holds are full.

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Small coracles (Vietnamese circular boats) also vie for a piece of the action.

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The proceeds from the catch are divided roughly into thirds. A third for the boat owner, a third to cover expenses and a third for the crew of 12-15 men. But they are only the beginning of a long line of people who handle the seafood before it finds its way into homes and restaurants across the globe.

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First in line are the fish brokers who’ve bid on the entire boat’s catch. With a notebook at the ready, they record everything taken off the boat, a seemingly endless procession of crates with fins and tails sticking out in every direction.

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The fish brokers have a small army working under them, unloading, sorting, weighing and cleaning the fish to make them market-ready.

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The work is backbreaking but pays anything from USD 5-15, as long as you’re ready to put in a 15-hour day.

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On the docks, hands expertly sort the catch by type and size, poking out from under conical hats and rubber boots.

In the corner, there’s a crunching sound as big blocks of ice are turned into shavings.

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Some of the seafood is processed to be flash frozen and exported, some is destined for local markets as far away as Saigon. But everyone agrees, it’s an early start to the day…

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As black turns to grey, the catch slowly gets sorted out…

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There’s all kinds of fish, including the occasional shark…

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or eagle ray…

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and jobs seem to overlap. As the deck hands wrap up their work…

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some finally get to have breakfast, finding a spot among all the commotion…

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while others simply look on…

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By first light, the market is ready for the first customers to arrive.

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It’s a lively mix of wholesalers, restaurateurs, chefs and everyday people.

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Voices are raised, staccato bursts of back and forth, a dance between buyer and seller.

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But it’s only money, and once the deal is done, all is forgiven, because there’s always more to be bought and sold tomorrow.

The Phan Thiet Fish Market is a fascinating look into the fishing trade of Phan Thiet. It’s very much a working market, almost like a Tsukiji in miniature, but blissfully free of tourists. Come early while it’s still dark, pull up a low plastic chair and sip on some strong Vietnamese coffee while watching the market unfold. Trips to the Phan Thiet Fish Market can be organized by the Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort & Spa.

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