August in China: Cormorant Fishing

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In Yangshuo, there’s nothing much to do after dark except to go cormorant fishing. We started off at the boat landing and got into a rickety wooden boat. Thankfully there was shelter as it soon started to rain. It was far too dark to take decent photos. (At that point my point and shoot camera was one of the crappier models.)

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Our cormorant fisherman came up on his bamboo raft, feathery helpers in tow. The poor fellow had to put on waterproofs because of the drizzle. He unhooked each of his five cormorants from its perch on the raft and tossed them into the water. They went racing underwater and all bets were off for which side of the boat a bird would next pop up from.

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Upon surfacing, a bird would often have a fish or two in its mouth. It would attempt to swallow them whole but a ring around its neck prevented the fish from sliding down. This was when the fishermen would skilfully hook the bird by the foot, grab it and turn it upside down to empty the cormorant of fish. After that, the bird was tossed back into the water to continue its quest. It was a rather odd sight!

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When the show was over, the fisherman caught each bird and put them back in place on the raft. They were so well-trained that they just stood there and made no attempt to go back in the water. All this one did was to show off by flapping its wings open. I suppose they need to dry out somehow!

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Here’s the rather meagre catch of the evening. I suppose they’ll go to the cormorants for their supper! Nobody fishes for the fish here, it’s all for the tourist dollar. Just as well, so the cormorants won’t go too hungry. I asked the fisherman whether it took a lot of skill to fish this way. It was quite funny the way he pooh-poohed the idea, saying that anyone could learn very easily. I’d probably fall off the raft trying to hook a cormorant!

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At the end, we posed for pictures with the nicest cormorant. The fisherman said that this was his best bird and that it was very guai (literally: well-behaved) and that it didn’t bite or steal things. Still, it was a bit intimidating to have a big bird flap its wings open on my shoulder!

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