Cormorant Fishing on the Line | God's World News

Cormorant Fishing on the Line

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    Youichiro Adachi (left) holds leashes tied to his birds. He prepares for cormorant fishing (ukai) on the Nagara River in Oze. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
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    A cormorant fishing master is known as usho. Youichiro Adachi feeds one of his cormorants a fish. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
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    Youichiro Adachi sorts ayu river fish bought from a fishmonger. He serves the fish at the inn he runs with his mother in Oze, Seki, Japan. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
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    A fisher conducts cormorant fishing to catch sweet fish on the Kiso River in Japan. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP)
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Every morning, 48-year-old Youichiro Adachi lifts his 16 cormorants from their baskets. He strokes their long necks and checks their health. He is the 18th generation of his family to be a master cormorant fisherman. Only about 50 people in Japan carry on the 1,300-year tradition of using the birds to catch sweet ayu river fish. But that way of life is threatened.

Heavier rains, flood barriers, and rising water temperatures affect the ayu fish population in the Nagara River. Flood barriers in the town of Oze protect the land and buildings around the Nagara, but they also cause smaller rocks and sand to fill the river bed. Ayu prefer to live around large boulders covered with the algae that are a staple of their diet.

“The sand and gravel has increased,” Adachi observes. “And along with that, the ayu have gotten smaller too.”

The Nagara River’s temperatures are higher than normal, reaching 86°. That warmth delays the spawning period of the ayu fish by a month.

Around sundown between May and October, Adachi boards a boat with his assistant, a steersman, and about 10 cormorants. The birds are leashed at their necks and bodies. Adachi swings a basket of burning logs out over the river. This stirs the ayu from their resting places around river stones.

The cormorants catch the fish as they scatter. Leashes keep the feathery fishers from swallowing the largest ayu. The birds are trained to release these catches into a bucket.

“Cormorants are my partners,” Adachi says.

The fishing method is called ukai. It was once common in Japan. The fiery lure, lunging beaks, and flashing scales are a tourist attraction. Recent hauls from the river are disappointing, however. An increase in storms also means tourist boats can be blown off course and fishing excursions have to be canceled.

Rainy weather and fewer fish mean less income for fishermen and tourist operations. Adachi’s son Toichiro wants to carry on the family tradition. But the 22-year-old currently works at a computer for a maker of high-precision machine tools.

“I want my son to inherit my job, but it’s tough to make a living,” Adachi says. “If we cannot catch fish anymore, our motivation is gone and there’s no meaning in what we do.”

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us. Yes, establish the work of our hands! — Psalm 90:17

Why? Seemingly small changes in a habitat can have big economic ripple effects.

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