Fisherman’s friend

by Shuhei Uda

Das neue Italien (Ausgabe III/2016)


A cormorant. Illustration: Stephanie F. Scholz

For over 1,300 years, the Japanese have gone fishing with help from cormorants. The method is called "Ukai". In the past, religious beliefs meant that people shouldn’t kill animals for food. However, if a bird, like the cormorant, does the killing, it is accepted. First the fisherman, known as "Usho", ties a noose around the cormorant's neck, at the lower end, just above the animal's body. This prevents the bird from swallowing larger fish but allows it to eat smaller ones. The fisherman uses this fishing line to let the cormorant into the water from the boat.

With a wooden torch he illuminates the water surface and watches how the bird dives for the fish. When the cormorant has caught something, the fisherman pulls him back into the boat and takes the fish. In ten regions of Japan, people continue to fish in this way, but only in the summer months. The most famous spot for this is the Nagana River in Gifu Prefecture on the island Honshū. There, cormorant fishing is also a popular tourist attraction. Ukai is forbidden in some rivers and lakes to protect the stocks. Apart from Japan, cormorant fishing is only still practised in China.

Translated by Jess Smee

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