While the fish used to be a delicacy only offered to kings, it can now only be found at the Phien Hoan restaurant in Phu Tho,- owned by Nguyen Van Phien.
| Anh Vu fish has particular lips that make it especially different from others |
Photo: Tuoi Tre
The natural habitat of the Anh Vu fish is at the deep bottom of the Gam and Na Hang Rivers, where the water is clean and clear and the flow runs fast. The Bach Hac Confluence in Viet Tri City in Thai Nguyen is the location where the fish can be found in the largest number.
The fish migrates to the Na Hang in Thuyen Quang Province when its usual rivers become turbid and muddy during the floods, and it hides in hollows of the clean and pure stream to reproduce. After that, they go back to the confluence of the Lo and Da rivers in Bach Hac.
Since it lives in hollows, the Anh Vu fish cannot be caught by regular fishing methods. The only way to capture one is to dive deep to their dwelling places and surround it with a net. After catching it, the fish should be put into a clean water tank to keep it alive. In order to allow it to eat moss and algae, the Anh Vu fish has particular lips that make it especially different from others.
The lips, with their thick cartilage like a swine’s mouth, are the most valuable part of the fish. Those who have tried Anh Vu fish dishes said that boiling down this cartilage with honey can make “super Viagra”. One can’t tell fact from fiction, but many barons have hunted the precious fish to add it to collections of sea horses, stag horns, rhino horns and shark fins, all of which are regarded as aids of virility.
However, according to Phien, the most delicious parts of an Anh Vu fish is its tripe, and the medicine that may come from the gallbladder. “They are delicious because of the rumor that you will become prosperous after eating this fish”. Thanks to these supposed beneficial properties, this kind of fish is almost extinct. Phien said that the last time he bought an Anh Vu fish caught in the wild was in 2008, and he took a photo of it and mounted it in his restaurant in Viet Tri.
Nguyen Manh Phuc, an engineer at the Phu Tho branch of Aquatic Product Breeding, commented on the propagation of the fish species, saying that “through technology transfer from the First Aquaculture Research Institute, we are successfully propagating this kind of fish.”
He showed us a brief video about the process of hunting down parent fishes to bring to the aquaculture center, letting them give birth, hatching young fish, raising them and then releasing them into nature to reproduce.
Since they were unable to find any Anh Vu fish in the Bach Hac confluence, the former kingdom of this fish, engineers had to search the Na Hang, where the fish hides, to find couples of breeding fish. The stream area of Na Hang is considered the birth place of the fish. However, the Na Hang Hydroelectric plant on the Gam river has causes the ecosystem, threatening the mating habitat of the fish.
Phuc said they have made dozen trips from Viet Tri to Na Hang, observing the fishermen who have made on-site tanks for rearing fishes that are becoming increasingly harder to find. Many of the fish in these tanks were dead because most of them were injured by the catching and taming process in artificial conditions. Transferring is also not easy because many fishes could die on the trip.
After all of their searching, Phuc’s research group bought a number of small young Anh Vu fish for breeding. There were many difficulties while rearing the fish. The cold season of 2008 killed a large number of them. Finally, the first 60 breeders engendered the next generation in 2011.
Phuc told us they had to stay at the hatching and rearing area, spending sleepless nights, for weeks waiting for the fish to be ready to give birth to the first brood. Eggs were put in a bow and inseminated through three methods: dry, wet and half wet, then hatched.
The fish have been released into nature to preserve the rare and precious gene which had been thought to be exterminated. This happiness is a thousand times greater than the happiness of eating a precious fish, for who are willing to spend a big sum of money.
The Anh Vu fish, named Semilebeo obscurus and Semilebeo notabilis, is a rare kind of fish in the Hong river system. It is soft, has few bones, and its delicious taste means it is considered a special fresh water dish in the north. Its price in Tuyen Quang and Viet Tri is around VND800,000 (USD38) a kilogram, and about VND1 million ($45) a kg in Hanoi.
Since 1992, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment has certified that the Anh Vu fish is an endangered animal which needs to be protected in the Vietnam Red Book.