Motivated by a fascinating travel photo, I’ve been digging into the world of cormorant fishing. Evidently, cormorant fishing arose independently across several regions in the world, which I suppose is a win for, um, convergent cultural evolution. It’s a fascinating look at the way people and animals interact.
See, what these fishermen do is catch cormorants and start training them to fish in a domestic fashion. They will tie a small band around the neck so that the bird cannot swallow large fish, though it can still gulp down the small ones. The fisherman and bird then work at night, crawling across the river on a boat with a bright light attached to attract the fish. The birds then mechanically hunt for the fish and bring it back to be spat out in a basket as you can see here.
This form of fishing arose in Japan, China, Europe, and Peru independently. There were regional variations; European cormorant hunting was more related to falconry, while the Chinese method actually domesticated the cormorants rather than using wild birds. The oldest record of this form of hunting is in Peru in the fifth century AD, and then a century later in Japan. At one point, a single cormorant was enough to feed a family. Now, however, the practice has devolved into little more than a tourist attraction.