Traditional cormorant fishing on the Nagara River, with its long history going back around 1,300 years, is conducted from May to October every year, and is preserved by the Japanese Imperial Family.
Because cormorant fishing is a daily activity for nearly five months of the year, the fishing masters begin each day by selecting ten to twelve healthy cormorants for the evening’s activities. When the birds are selected and the boats are prepared, the six fishing masters draw ropes to determine the order in which they will fish.
When the cormorants catch the fish, they are brought back to the boat using ropes attached to their bodies. When they are back in the boat, the fishing masters remove the fish from the birds’ throats. Each bird can hold up to six fish in its throat. The birds are prevented from swallowing the fish because of a ring tied around their necks. The cormorants, however, are still able to swallow smaller fish. Though the ropes are strong, the fishing masters are able to quickly break them if a bird’s rope gets caught beneath rocks, ensuring the bird will not drown.
Each night, cormorant fishing officially begins when three fireworks are set off in the evening sky. At first, the boats come down the river, one by one, catching fish. They use a fire attached to the front of the boat to attract the fish and hit the sides of the boat to keep the birds active. As the night draws to a close, the six boats will line up side-by-side and descend the river in a process called sougarami. Those who come to view cormorant fishing are often able to view the night’s catch.
Capital City: Gifu
Population in 2007 (thousands): 2,104
Area in 2007 (square km): 10,621