Gifu City launches program to fill shortage of cormorant fishing boatmen

Courtesy of Gifu City
Boatman operates a cormorant fishing boat.

Looking to preserve the traditional tourist attraction of cormorant fishing amid a shortage of boatmen, Gifu City and concerned organizations will launch a program to attract more people into the profession that plies the Nagara River.

A local council of concerned parties formed to preserve the centuries-old fishing technique, in which cormorants are trained to catch river fish, will hold a total of five trial courses starting next month. The aim is to get more people to apply for boatmen jobs offered by the city’s cormorant fishing boat administrative office around January each year.

According to the office, the number of crew members has been on the decline. There were about 150 registered boatmen in fiscal 2020, but due to the pandemic and other reasons, that number is now down to around 120.

Some boats adopted a shift system this year, in which they work on a certain day of the week regardless of the number of trips. But most are call on workers based on to the number of trips, making it a challenge to secure a full crew.

Newcomers usually begin training in April, but some quit just before the start because they feel job is not for them.

The trial course sessions, in which participants will learn of what the job entails and the techniques used, will be held on the first and fourth Sundays of September and October, with an opening ceremony on Aug. 21. An introductory session will be held ahead of time on Aug. 11, giving potential recruits a chance to decide whether they want to continue on with the course.

The course will be free of charge and limited to about 10 participants. Applications will be accepted until Aug. 1, and if they exceed the limit, places will be decided by lottery.

“The boatmen are indispensable to cormorant fishing,” a city official said. “We want anyone who thinks they want to try working as a boatman to participate in the program.”