Cormorant fishing (鵜飼) is a traditional method of fishing which has been around for over 1300 years and the event is protected by the Japanese government (and praised by Charlie Chaplin).

There are still 13 cities in Japan where they still fish in this style and in 2009 within my first few weeks of my exchange year I was invited to Uji (宇治市) and taken on a surprise trip to view this ancient art.

The fishing technique involves a master fisherman (鵜匠) (in this case they were all women as they have nimbler fingers) who controls around 10-12 cormorants by a leashed snare which is placed over their gullets. This snare allows the cormorants to swallow any small fish that they catch but stops them from swallowing larger fish. The snare is more like a ring than a noose and doesn’t choke the birds, in fact fishing cormorant are very well looked after and can live up to 15 years which when compared to wild cormorants that generally live only a few years is quite impressive.

The skill of the ushou (fisherman or cormorant controller) lies in constantly adjusting the leashes so that they don’t become tangled.

The activity is carried out at night with a burning pine torch elevated over the water being the only light. The torch attracts fish closer to the surface and enables the cormorants to see and swoop for them.

If you would like more information on cormorant fishing then check out this Glendale Community College blog.