Cormorant fishing on China’s Li River is all but dying out.

Fisherman set out with domesticated cormorants, a seabird, on bamboo rafts before sunrise and often in the early evening. These birds prey on fish. But the fishermen tie threads around the necks of the cormorants to prevent them from swallowing the fish they catch.

Once the threads are set, the fishermen begin chanting on their boats to prompt the birds to dive down and retrieve the fish. They control their birds with long poles.

Unable to compete with modern fishing, cormorant fishing on the river Li is now largely practiced for tourists.

“Wild China”, a documentary series produced by BBC and CCTV, has an exceptional segment on this 1,300-year old fishing technique, which is also practiced in Japan.

Here’s a look at how cormorant fishing works:

Local fishermen and their cormorants set off on their boats in China’s Yongjia County, Zhejiang Province.



The fishermen spend years training the birds to return to the boat with their catch.


AP Photo / Xinhua Zhou Hua

A fisherman ties a thread made of hemp around the cormorant’s neck.


AP Photo / Greg Baker

A cormorant races after a fish underwater.


BBC WordWide via YouTube

A cormorant is handled by a local fisherman as it retrieves a fish to the boat.

BI5China Photos / Getty Images

The fishermen reward the cormorants with smaller fish.


It is believed that cormorants can keep an approximate tally of the fish they catch and if they aren’t rewarded for their efforts, they stop diving after fish for the fishermen.


REUTERS/Mark Ralston

You can watch the segment on cormorant fishing from “Wild China” here: