Travel Blog - Fishing in Erhai Lake
    2012-12-28 16:41:28     CRIENGLISH.com         Web Editor: Luo Chun

Erhai Lake is a beautiful highland lake in Dali, Yunnan Province. As it is shaped like an ear, local people call it Erhai, or "Ear-shaped Sea". The lake is an important food source for the local people, who are famous for fishing by cormorant rather than nets. The traditional fishing method is handed down over the generations.

Cormorant fishing in Erhai Lake is a window to the past.

Let's follow Zhang Wan to take a closer look.


 

This is a song 62-year-old fisherman Yang Yuegan who sings dozens of times a day as part of his cormorant fishing show in Erhai Lake. He says he has been raising cormorants since he was 20-years-old. Though cormorant fishing once was a successful industry in its own right, its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry.

"Cormorants and their owners rely on each other. Several generations of my family made their living cormorant fishing. These cormorants rely on me to feed them, and I rely on them to earn money for me."

Cormorants are able to dive underwater and stay there for a long time. While it is underwater, it searches for fish. The bird then catches the fish and returns to the surface. After that, the cormorant spits the fist back up on the deck of the boat.

"Cormorants bite the eyes of the fish directly, so the fish gets no chance to escape. To prevent the birds from swallowing the fish it catches, you have to tie a string near the base of the bird's throat so that they can hold the fish without swallowing it."

Yang Yuegan says he has 33 cormorants, all of which are well tamed. Usually, a female cormorant can only catch prey of about 1.5 kilograms, but males can hold 14 kilograms or more.

"Only cormorants that can stay within one or two kilometers of their owners are good, but those that stand beside their owners are not that good. Previously, I had two good cormorants who could catch very big fish by staying beneath the water for six or seven minutes. But only one or two in a dozen are this good."

When it comes to fishing, Yang says winter is best because the fish are slower in winter time, and the water is much clearer, making it easier for the cormorants to spot the fish.

Yang says cormorants are very smart. Just 100 days after they are born, they can start to learn how to catch fish. However, among the dozens of new born cormorants, only a few of them can survive.

"Although the cormorants reproduce every year, the rate of survival is pretty low. Out of 100 newborn cormorants last year, only nine of them survived."
Apart from the low rate of survival, the cost of raising cormorants is comparatively high. Yang says the total cost of the fish for cormorants is as high as 1,600 yuan a month.

As far as Yang Yuegan knows, the grandfather of his grandfather started to make a living with cormorant fishing. He says raising cormorants is a skill that has been passed down from generation to generation in his family.

Yang Yuegan has two daughters and one son. He says he wishes to pass down his cormorant fishing skills to his children, but they are not really that interested in such hard work. But Yang insists that cormorant fishing be kept by his family.

"Cormorant fishing can not be wiped out, the skill should be kept from generation to generation. This is something precious' it's the intangible cultural heritage of our country."

When it's sunset, Yang Yuegan bids farewell to the last tour group of the day and finishes his cormorant fishing show in Erhai Lake. He says he must rush back to take a look at other cormorants onshore, as two female cormorants are laying eggs.

For CRI, I am Zhang Wan.

 

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