Tran Manh Duc, who lives on Hoang Sa Street that runs along the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal, known not too long ago as the dirtiest in HCM City, has taken up a new hobby.

Duc pointed to his fish basket and said he began fishing here two or three months ago after seeing his neighbours catch a lot of fish.

At least 30 small fish and a few bigger ones jostled for space in very little water. Duc said he would release them back into the canal later; that he was fishing for sport, not food.

Over the last few months, a transformation has taken place along the canal, once infamous for its stinking, black waters.

“In the past, no fish could live in this canal, but the water in the canal has become cleaner recently. It’s not difficult to see schools of fish now,” Duc said.

“It maybe native fish released by local people (to gain merit during the Tet festival),” said the 22-year-old man who has spent his childhood on the banks of the stinking canal.

“Twenty years ago, when I was a kid, my house was very close to the canal. I could not sleep because of the stink. I could not imagine then that I would be able to fish in it one day, as I am doing now,” he said.

Not very far from Duc stood Phan Thanh Cam, 28, who used to spend a lot of money to fish on a service lake in the Le Thi Rieng Park or go to outlying districts to enjoy his hobby.

Cam said he was fishing in the canal for the second time.

“Now I feel lazy to travel so far to fish. I saw several people catching a lot of fish here, so I bring my rod here to save money and time travelling to Nha Be, Binh Chanh and Can Gio districts or even Long An province,” said the technician who works for motorbike maker Yamaha.

Cam also spent his childhood near the canal. He said as important as fishing is the fact that he can smoke and chat with friends near the canal, which he never thought would become clean again. The water has turned from black to green and clumps of water hyacinths can be seen floating on it now.

On the heels of this remarkable phenomenon, locals have already listed the canal among the popular fishing destinations in the city. In the afternoon, pavements along the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal are more crowded and bustling with social activity.

While some choose to fish, others are there just to while away the time. Those fishing also bring wine and drink it with their friends as they wait for the fish to take their bait.

It is evident that after more than ten years, the project to improve the hygiene and environment of the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal is bearing fruit.

In the 1990s, the city targeted the canal area for urban development. Many poor migrants had inhabited the area and built temporary houses that discharged all their waste directly into the canal, worsening the pollution.

Over the years, the canal water became black, grimy and let out a perpetual stench.

In a massive six-year (1993-98) cleanup operation, the municipal administration cleared away thousands of slums and made way for roads along the canal.

The project had a total investment capital of 1.6 trillion VND (over 76.9 million USD), which was spent on providing compensation and resettling nearly 7,000 residents living along the canal, dredging 260,000 cubic meters of sedimentation, construction roads, planting trees and other activities.

While the resumption of fishing is an indicator of its revival, concerns have been raised that the hobby could further damage the fragile environment of the canal.

Everybody agreed that it is not safe to eat fish caught in the canal. But the fish could also die after being released, further damaging the canal’s waters, people say.

Many people are also worried that the return of social activities like drinking, playing cards and fishing along the canal will see increased dumping of rubbish and waste into its waters, undoing what has been a remarkable achievement by the city administration.-VNA