‘Tis the season

That time of year has come again. Though the folks in the Mekong are not thinking about the holiday season we celebrate in the USA. The current “season” in the Mekong is the time of high fish harvests, where the weather shifts from the wet to the dry season. This time of year is very important for rural villagers, as it is the time when they catch the bulk of their protein for the coming dry months ahead. This boatload alone turned out to hold over 200 kilograms of small fish. This is a good season for fishing because the shift in river flows drives migrations out of the smaller streams and into the deeper waters of larger tributaries and the mainstream of the Mekong. Locals will preserve these small fish through fermentation, producing a product called “Pa Dek” in Lao language. The preparation includes mixing the fish with salt and rice husks before it is stored in ceramic jars and left out to ferment. This is a very typical way of preserving fish throughout the Mekong Basin, where the catch of fish is highly seasonal and refrigeration is limited. The protein stored in Pa Dek will be an important source of food for villagers in the drier months of December through May, when they often have limited access to other protein sources.