Fishing with cormorants

Last night we had the opportunity to witness a dying tradition – fishing with cormorants. But that’s not the whole story. You want to know how we got to the fishing hole first!

Driving in China is different. I’ve already mentioned how traffic seems to be more about flow than rules. We’ve been amazed at how people seem to avoid each other, and no one speeds.

Cormorant fisherman

We had a rather wild ride to watch this man fish with cormorants!

We left for the fishing spot just as it was getting dark. To get onto the main drag, you need to make a left turn over a rather busy four-lane street. No problem. Just drive down the left-hand side into oncoming traffic until there is room to switch into the right-hand lane!

We were then dropped off at a shuttle to get to the fishing hole. As we arrived at the van, we noticed there was a problem — it was already full. The four of us added to the five adults and two children still standing outside.

This was one of those moments we call “rolling with it.” We managed to cram 17 people into the van.

The New Zealanders in the back were a little drunk, so they loved every minute of the ride. The German couple with the small children kept up a steady conversation in which I heard “Deutschland” several times, so they were probably saying what we were thinking: this ride violates every traffic safety code known to Germans and/or the rest of the Western world!

We managed to arrive safely, and the experience was pretty cool. The fisherman tied a cord around his birds’ necks to prevent them from swallowing any fish, and then we headed out on the water. The birds started diving down into the water and scooped up fish in their beaks. Once they had a catch, the fisherman hauled the cormorants out of the water and the birds would release fish into a basket.

Claire holding a cormorant

Claire holding a cormorant

Yes I know some of you are thinking this sounds cruel. But the birds are trained from when they are very young to perform this task. They are given fish as part of their reward, and none of the birds seemed distressed about fishing this way. They were willingly going into the water to retrieve the fish, and they never tried to fly away. I don’t think fishing in this tradition harms the birds in any way.

Despite the fact that cormorant fishing has been around for a thousand years, it is really only performed for tourists today. It is not used as a primary method for fishing, as fishing nets and rods have replaced the need to use birds. But the practice is definitely cool to watch!


Bamboo fishing boat and cormorants

Plastic bamboo fishing boat and cormorants



5 Comments on “Fishing with cormorants

  1. What another cool experience…the original “catch and release” fishing! Aren’t cormorants a beautiful bird? Looks to be quite the armful for Claire:-) You’re seeing so many things that you’d never encounter at home. Wonderful.

      • I am so proud of my little family. Great memories. Cool experiences. Great idea.
        I am counting down the days and the hours before your birthday. I want you guys to
        have a memorable dinner . My B. Day present is $ 5OO.00 I hope that it will pay for
        the dinner. I love you all and enjoy so much your pictures and your commentaries
        on your activities.

  2. That’s another experience the kids will remember.. That’s a big bird Claire. Was it heavy?
    I’m curious, how was the ride home?…

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