Cock-Fighting Out of Season, Bettors Turn to Fighting Fish

Life inside the plastic serum bottle can be one of long hours of rest, with food and companionship to help with relaxation. Or it can be a four-hour fight to the finish for the 2-centimeter-long fish that entertain the men who gather on a side street near Wat Koh.

Sheltered under blue canvas tents on a trash-lined footpath off Ouknha Ket Street in Daun Penh district, fish-owners look for a match, while more than a dozen others gather on stools and gamble on fights already in progress.

Nearby, fish-sellers have set up dozens of bottles for those looking to get in on the action. De­pend­ing on how vicious a fish is, the cost can be as high as 8,000 riel or as low as 100 riel.

The best fighters are between 7 months and 1 year old, said fish seller Bo Sophal, 46, who has raised fish since 1985 and now makes from $5 to $10 each day.

“After a year and a half, it is not strong enough to bite its enemy,” he said.

Sok Kun, another fish seller, carries his 40 bottles around on his motorcycle. He sells them along Mao Tse-tung Boulevard.

Even though Cambodians call the fighters “Thai fish,” most of them are either bred here or brought from Vietnam. Most buyers are students and tourists, while others buy the dark blue fish to entertain children at home, Sok Kun said.

The fish-fighting usually takes place during the three or four months when cock-fighting is out of season. The spurs that roosters use as a weapon inside the cock-fighting ring don’t grow sharp until November, leaving gamblers to look for something else to pass the time.

Fights start about 8 am and each lasts from two to four hours. A fight is won when one fish eith­er dies or refuses to fight. Spec­tators from both sides must agree on the outcome before victory can be declared. Betting can go as high as $20 on any of the half-dozen matches each morning. Sometimes on­lookers will join in, driving the bets even higher.

But money aside, the atmosphere is mainly about having fun for those outside the serum bottle. In fact, it is a lot like boxing, Bo Sophal said.

Spectators try to size up each fish, and then hand over money or accept winnings once the match is decided. Nobody ever gets rich and, unlike cards or dice, nobody gets in trouble with the law, Bo Sophal said.

“Above all, the game creates friendship,” said Nut Rottanak, a student who lost 5,000 riel last week when two of his fish suffered defeat. “After the game, the winners buy drinks and we all have a good time.”

 

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