Cormorant Fishing on the Li River
Cormorants, a type of fierce water bird, are good at diving for fish. In parts of South China, cormorants have been used to catch fish for centuries.
About 400 years ago, some fishermen along the Li River started to domesticate wild cormorants for fishing. Normally, several well-trained cormorants were able to support the livelihood of a family.
When the fishing season arrives, lots of bamboo rafts are floated on the river and the local fishermen are ready to fish with their cormorants. Before they release the birds from the rafts, they tie a noose loosely around the cormorants' necks to stop them from swallowing any fish they may catch. Then the fishermen encourage their birds to take the plunge by chanting and dancing. As soon as they have caught fish in the river, the birds return to the rafts because they've been trained to do so. From the time they are born, each of these cormorants has been reared to a life of obedience to its master. In effect, the birds are slaves, but they are not stupid. It's said that cormorants can keep a tally of the fish they catch, at least up to seven. So, unless they get a reward, they simply withdraw their labor.
Generally, a good cormorant team can catch a couple of dozen fish in a morning. The fishermen keep the best fish for themselves; the cormorants get the leftover tiny fish. An adult cormorant can eat about 1 kilogram of fish per day.
The best age for a cormorant to go fishing is from 3 to 12 years, while it can live to over 20 years. When the cormorant reaches over 16 years old, it is too old to catch enough fish, even to feed itself. When the cormorant is going to die, the fisherman will feed his cormorant some alcohol and bury it after it has become deeply drunk. This is what the fisherman calls "euthanasia". The cormorant's funeral will be held by a prestigious fisherman in the village at night-time along the riverbank.
These days, competition from modern fishing techniques means the fishermen can't make a living from traditional cormorant fishing alone. This centuries old tradition is now mostly practiced to entertain tourists.