The name, ‘Channa’ is the terminology for ‘snakehead fish’; ‘hanamesis’ refers to the fish’s origin in Ha Nam province; and Hao, Dang & Tien are the names of scientists Nguyen Van Hao and Bui Dinh Dang from the Research Institute for Aquaculture No 1 (RIA No 1) and Nguyen Manh Tien from the Ha Nam provincial Department of Science and Technology.
The 13 fishes, members of the snakehead fish family, were discovered living in a still water limestone-based ecosystem in the Tam Truc swamp, Ba Sao town, Kim Bang district, Ha Nam province. They were taken to the provincial Department of Science and Technology on April 17, 2010, then sent to the RIA No 1 to be examined by specialists.
An expert ichthyologist was invited to give his opinion and, after careful research, he concluded that only three subclasses of the species have ever been identified, They include ‘Channa. asiatica, Linnaeus, 1758’ in southern China and northern Vietnam, ‘Channa. nox Zhang, Musikasinthorn & Wanatabe, 2002’ in Guangxi, China, and the latest discovery, ‘Channa. hanamesis Hao, Dang & Tien 2010’ in Kim Bang and Thanh Liem districts of Ha Nam province, Vietnam.
Nguyen Van Hao has also discovered and announced two other new species, ‘Channa. hoaluensis Hao n.sp.’ from Hoa Lu district and ‘Channa. ninhbinhensis Hao n.sp’ from Hoa Lu, Gia Vien and Yen Mo districts, Ninh Binh province.
The new spieces has drawn the attention of Ha Nam provincial authorities, who invested VND 1.2 billion to preserve its genes.
“I aim to write a book about the 26 different types of snakehead fish in Vietnam, half of them are new species,” he says.
He showed me the detailed outline for the books. In addition to the study of snakehead fish, he also hopes to write books on fish that live in cold water. His earlier, three volume, 2400 page book, ‘Freshwater Fishes in Vietnam’, has become an essential handbook for those working in aquaculture sector.
Hao retired in 1997 and published the first volume of the book in 2001 and the second and third in 2005.
The book earned him a certificate of merit from the RIA No 1 in 2009, nearly 12 years after his retirement. Instead of the formal, nonspecific words usually found on certificates, such as “has obtained outstanding achievements in …”, Hao's award from the Head of RIA No 1 says “Nguyen Van Hao - author of the three-volume book “Freshwater Fishes in Vietnam” published 2001 - 2005”. The compliment, for both Hao and his work, was very meaningful and encouraging for him. As a scientist, being acknowledged for his work is most important. Recognition and the support among the scientific community are crucial for the advancement of science.
It was not easy to write the books due to the lack of financial resources. “Sometimes I was afraid that I would not be able to finish my books because of little support and so many obstacles to overcome,” he said.
The three-volume book is the result of his field trips to the Red, Da and Lo Rivers in the north and Tien and Hau River in the south. He even followed the Mekong to the Tonle Sap river and lake system in Cambodia. The first book received financial support from the publishing house but Hao had to finance the second and third volumes himself. He used all his earnings from writing articles and previous research projects to pay for their publication.
He proudly showed me the three books endorsed by the Copyright Office of Vietnam and the author’s certificate for the three volumes from April 2006 and May 2006.
He was aware of copyright laws when he outlined the manuscript for the books and knew he had to reference his colleagues’ works. “A scientist must clearly state his sources and references when quoting other researches. That is proper scientific ethics”, he said
His work on Vietnamese freshwater fishes presents 1027 species belonging to 427 orders, 98 families and 22 groups. The book provides detailed information on the characteristics of 79 species, 32 orders and 8 subclasses, of which two orders and 40 species have been recognised as new ‘taxonomic categories’.
He continues researching to amend and supplement the characteristics of the recognised species and name the new ones. He receives assistance from his students and colleagues who have sent him samples of strange or unusual fish. His name often appears in ‘Biology’ magazine put out by the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology as well as the ‘Agriculture and Rural Development’ publication.
“More of my books and articles have been published during my 15 years of retirement than in the 40 previous years when I was working,” he says.
It is a high honour for an ichthyologist to register his name as a part of the name of a newly discovered species. He gave me a list of six new families and 141 new species that included his name and those of his colleagues saying, “Being a scientist is a very difficult path. But no matter how hard it is, the work makes me feel alive and useful”.