A brief history of Cormorant fishing

Since the dawn of civilization there have been two vocations that man came to rely upon. One of these being hunting and the other is fishing. Up to the discovery of agriculture man’s main food source came from either hunting wild animals or from fishing their waters. Primitive settlements were built around a lake or along a running river, this due to the constant source of water and of food from fishing.

This is A brief history of Cormorant fishing

Around the 6th century AD, a most interesting way of fishing was developed in Japan. This type of fishing involved the use of a Cormorant whereby the bird would be tied with a rope and it would also have a small ring around its neck, which the fisherman relied upon to pull the bird

Cormorant Fishing in Guilin
Cormorant Fishing in Guilin, Photo by Ndecam – Creative Commons.


back into his boat after it went off to catch its fish. The fact that the Cormorant had a ring around its neck mean that it could only eat small fish and the fisherman would be left with the bigger fish that the cormorant couldn’t get down its gullet. Although this practice was founded in Japan, it was picked up by Chinese and Korean fishermen and by the 7th century Chinese fishermen were using cormorant fishing techniques in the north and central parts of China.

Evidence has also been found to sustain that around the 5th century in what is now known to be Peru fishermen used cormorants to fish their too, making this one of the most enigmatic ways of fishing on the planet.

Because Native Americans in North and South America originated in Asia, from where they migrated 16 thousand years ago, there might be a possibility that this type of fishing be as old as that, although there has been no substantial proof to support this theory. Something to think about, isn’t it?In Europe, around the 14th century, cormorant fishing had developed independently from the Chinese and Japanese but due to the quick development of industry and improved fishing this type of fishing was soon abandoned, leaving it present only as a tourist attraction in many places, for example Macedonia, and France.

So what’s going on now?

Nowadays, cormorant fishing is a lost art. Fishermen consider cormorant fishing to be nothing more than a useless practice. Why would they waste their time fishing with a bird when they can fish industrial quantities with a big hauler? Well, imagine seeing a bird dive up to 100 meters into water and then emerging with a fish in its beak! That’s something really beautiful to witness.

Cormorant fishing is still alive in Japan in the sense that besides its touristic attraction purpose, fishermen inside the isles of Japan still practice this tradition. Due to Japan having some remote regions, which are hard to access with normal means of transportation, cormorant fishing remained the main food source for small villages deep inside mainland Japan.

But the cormorant population started to diminish in the 20th century, due to the practice of cormorant fishing being pretty much abolished, but in later years Wildlife protection initiatives have started to fill up the gaps in the much needed cormorant population.

Cormorants are not pretty birds, in fact, they are amongst the ugliest creatures you can lay your eyes on, but they are of a true value when it comes to fishing. Cormorant fishing in Europe is a dying tradition, which right now is only kept alive to serve as a tourist attraction.

Cormorant Fishing in China
Photo by HBarrison- Creative Commons

What can you do to help keep cormorant fishing alive?

Well, if you enjoy fishing, then why not give this special type of fishing a try if you ever visit Japan or many of the tourist attractions across Europe and Asia? There’s not much training involved either as you don’t actually have to train the bird, it’s their nature to fish; cormorants know how to fish better than any other bird on the planet.

To sum it up, cormorant fishing is an amazing type of fishing that man has used for thousands of years, and is still as fascinating today as it’s ever been considering our developed world. It is part of various cultures, but unfortunately is a dying art. If you want to help preserve cormorant fishing and those that rely on it then do you bit, raise awareness and pledge your support.

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