May 11th marked the opening day of the cormorant fishing season on the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture. Whilst this traditional form of fishing is no longer practical, it has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1920’s.
The burning lantern you can see in the picture is to attract the fish, and it also allows the birds to see their prey. The traditionally clad fishermen can have up to a dozen of these highly trained cormorants on leashes, and the birds frequently dive down into the water to catch the fish. But to make sure the birds don’t eat what they’ve caught, the fishermen attach rings around their necks to stop them swallowing. When they succeed in getting a fish, the birds are unceremoniously dragged back into the boat, parted with their prize, and then put back out onto the water to continue working.
What these well-trained birds do during the off-season is undocumented, but rumours abound of them moonlighting on fishing boats, and clandestinely selling their catch at local markets.