Today, we went to the fish farm. It was amazing! It actually might be my favorite of the field trips we have taken so far. Also, I have 0 pictures from today, BUT my friend Kira just posted some on FB and has graciously allowed me to share them here with you.
We went to the Chiang Mai Development Farm in the Maetang sub-district of Chiang Mai Province. It was a nice cool day for which we were all very happy. First, we were able to talk to talk to one of the women that runs the fish farm and ask questions about the organization. Our Pis act as translators for us, so conversations go from English to Thai and then back from Thai to English. This is how most of our learning is done and it can sometimes be confusing and frustrating when things are lost in the translation process.
After the introduction, we put on our rash guards and NRS water shoes and headed out to the tilapia ponds.
We all felt a bit bizzare because we were wearing baggy hiking pants with super tight rash-guards on top.
First, we saw some very baby fish. The fish are divided into 5 stages, with 1 being the youngest and 5 being the oldest. The babies are kept in small trays that have a swirling water current though them. Each little tray has 250g of eggs originally that become tiny fish, smaller than the tip of my pinky. We learned that the water swirls because momma fish keep the babies in her mouth and the swirling current imitates the motion in her mouth. Next, we headed to the outdoor ponds for our morning activity.
The morning activity was to drag a net across a large tilapia pond to catch the tilapia and move them to smaller pond. I. I actually didn't even think to ask why we were moving them, but we were.
The big pond was probably 30x30 meters big, if not larger. The water went up past our knees and the mud was deep. Walking was a serious challenge and dragging the net just added another level of difficulty since we had to keep it close to the bottom. We were all getting foot cramps. We all had to move together as one line to drag the net, but some times part of the line got ahead or behind. As we moved, fish would jump in and out of the net as well as hit our thighs. Some of the fish were huge, 18 inches and larger. After getting to the other side, we'd get all the fish into smaller baskets and transfer them to a new pond.
In total,we did three net drags--twice in one pond and once in another. The second time we dragged the net I was on the edge and my legs sunk down till I was knee deep in the mud and could not get my balance. I fell over THREE times into the muddy water and almost pulled down two other girls with me so I just had to drop my section of net and focus on getting to the other side.
After dragging the net and transferring fish, it was time for a delicious lunch of rice and fried fish!
Our afternoon task was to go to the smaller, (but deeper) fish ponds and catch momma fish to collect their eggs. The fish in these ponds are kept in smaller pens. The workers pulled a tarp from the bottom of the pen to the top of the lake and basically created a pool cover type thing to corner all the fish into a small section. In the pen were both male and female fish so we learned to identify the men from the women. Next, we were taught how to use the nets to capture the fish, hold the fish properly in our (gloved) hands, open their mouth to look for babies, and extract the babies. Once the babies were found or the fish was determined not to have any, you throw the fish to the other side. Throwing the fish was probably my favorite part.
My first several attempts with the net were comical and there was a lot of shrieking as I tried to grab the fish, freaked out, then tried again. The fish also doesn't lie there in the net peacefully, it thrashes its tail around and you get sprayed in the face with water. After several unsuccessful attempts, I did it! My first several fish had no babies though. Eventually, many of us ditched the nets in favor of just sticking our hands in the pond and grabbing the fish with our hands. Again, it took several tries before I could get over being freaked out by touching fish, but I caught 4 fish with just my hands and I just got really into it. My friends even commented that it seemed I had gotten over my fish freak outs.
I was determined to find me some babies since I hadn't yet. I wasn't the only one, my friend Emily at one point yelled at the fish, "WHERE ARE YOUR BABIES," which just made all of us laugh. Finally, after searching 20 or so fish my friend Indie (short for Indigo) and I found 4 fish with babies! To get the babies out, you hold open the mouth, tip the fish mouth down into the net and gently shake it so the babies fall out. Then the workers put the babies in a container sorted by age and you go back to catch some more fish. Emily also found some fish babies, so there was a happy ending for everyone.
We had 4 ponds to do, but we ran out of time and only got to do 3. I was legitimately sad, catching the fish and hanging out in the water was so much fun. Catching the fish started to become a bit addicting and it was just cool to grab all these huge fish hoping to find gold (stage 3 babies are gold looking eggs). Writing this blog, it seems that I actually learned quite a bit about black tilapia, which is kinda the point of experiential learning. Going back to classroom learning in the states is going to be quite the challenge.
|The trays with all the baby fish|
|One of the many fish farms, this is where we caught the fish to get the babies, the blue squares are the pens. The net drag ponds don't have pens.|
|Some of my friends catching fish|