Ukai – Ancient Japanese Art of Cormorant Fishing
It is widely known that cormorants are sea birds that are masters in fishing. They wait for their prey on the sea shores or by the side of the rivers and when the moment is right, they dive underwater and catch the fish. Because of their skills, in ancient Japan and China, fishermen have learned to train these birds in order to catch the fish in the rivers. This kind of action is known as cormorant fishing or “ukai” in Japan.
Today, this activity is practiced only in select places in Japan, especially in the Niagara River in Gifu Prefecture.
Cormorant fishing takes place during the twilight hours. A group of fishermen in long wooden boats are helped by dozens of cormorants on leashes, who swim alongside the boat and dive under the water to catch the fish, being able to capture and hold up to six fish in their throat at a time. The reason why the cormorants don’t swallow the fish is because the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the birds’ throats, which allows them to only swallow small fish.
Because the cormorant fishing requires great skills of the fishing masters, they have been conferred the official title of “Cormorant Fishermen of the Imperial Household Agency”, which is a hereditary title passed on from father to son.