Cormorant fishing

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Chinese fisherman with one of his cormorants on Erhai Lake near Dali, Yunnan. The bird's throat snare is visible via the constriction in the bird's neck.

Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in rivers. Historically, cormorant fishing has taken place in Japan and China,[1] as well as Greece, North Macedonia, and, briefly, England and France. It is first attested as a method used by the ancient Japanese in the Book of Sui, the official history of the Sui Dynasty of China, completed in 636 CE. This technique has also been used in other countries but is currently under threat in China.[2][3][4]

To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird's throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat, but the birds can swallow smaller fish. When a cormorant has caught a fish in its throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the boat and has the bird spit the fish up. Though cormorant fishing once was a successful industry, its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry.

The types of cormorants used differ based on the location. In Gifu, Japan, the Japanese cormorant (Phalacrocorax capillatus) is used; Chinese fishermen often employ great cormorants (P. carbo).[5] Darters (birds in the genus Anhinga), which are close relatives of cormorants, are also used for this fishing technique on occasion.


Great cormorant standing on post with wings extended
Great cormorants are often used by Chinese fishers.


Cormorant fishing, called ukai (鵜飼) in Japanese, takes place in 13 cities in Japan. The most famous location is Gifu, Gifu Prefecture, home to cormorant fishing on the Nagara River, which has continued uninterrupted for the past 1,300 years.[6] Cormorant fishing in Seki also takes place on the Nagara River, but it is called 'Oze cormorant fishing' (小瀬鵜飼 Oze Ukai). Only the cormorant fishing masters in Gifu and Seki are employed by the emperor and called Imperial Fishermen of the Royal Household Agency.

Keisai Eisen's print of cormorant fishing on the Nagara River during the Edo period
Cormorant fishers on Poyang Lake, China
Cormorant fishing master on a boat at night in Gifu, Japan


In Guilin, Guangxi, cormorant birds are famous for fishing on the shallow Lijiang River.[4] Elsewhere in southern China, the Bai people have utilized cormorant fishing since the 9th century on the banks of Erhai Lake. Traditionally practised for sustenance, cormorant fishing is now primarily performed for tourists.[7]


Cormorant fishing is an old tradition in Greece and North Macedonia,[8] especially on Doiran Lake which lies in the border of the two countries, and it is still practiced today by some traditional fishermen. In Western Europe, cormorant fishing took place briefly from the 16th to 17th centuries, primarily in England and France.[9]


There are claims of cormorant fishing in Peru during the 5th century, 100 years earlier than Japan.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jackson, C. E. (1997). "Fishing with cormorants". Archives of Natural History. 24 (2): 189–211. doi:10.3366/anh.1997.24.2.189.
  2. ^ Manzi, M.; Coomes, O. T. (2010). "Cormorant Fishing in Southwestern China: A Traditional Fishery Under Siege". The Geographical Review. 92 (4): 597–603. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2002.tb00015.x.
  3. ^ Rose, Gerald (1987). The fisherman and the cormorants. London: Bodley Head. ISBN 0-370-31060-8.
  4. ^ a b "Heart of the Dragon: Cormorant fishing". Wild China. BBC Two. Retrieved 2020-08-16.
  5. ^ "Cormorant Fishing "UKAI"". May 2001. Archived from the original on 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  6. ^ "Gifu Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River". Gifu City Cormorant Fishing Observation Boat Office. Archived from the original on 2020-08-16.
  7. ^ Larson-Wang, Jessica. "The History Behind the Cormorant Fishermen of Erhai Lake". Culture Trip. Archived from the original on 2020-08-16. Retrieved 2019-08-17.
  8. ^ "Macedonian cities - Dojran". Macedonian Cultural and Information Centre. Archived from the original on 2020-06-14.
  9. ^ Beike, Marcus (2014). "The history of Cormorant fishing in Europe" (PDF). Vogelwelt. 133: 1–21. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-08-16.
  10. ^ Leicht, Hermann (1960). Pre-Inca Art and Culture. New York: Orion Press. pp. 49–50.