Youichiro Adachi, a devoted 18th-generation cormorant fisherman in Japan, shares a profound connection with his feathered companions. Each morning, Adachi gently checks the well-being of his birds, considering them his valued partners.
Ukai, the ancient method of using trained cormorants to catch ayu river fish, has been a 1,300-year tradition in Adachi’s family. With a hereditary duty to supply this delicacy to the Japanese imperial household, Adachi continues the practice, now largely sustained by curious tourists.
However, environmental shifts are posing challenges to this age-old tradition. Adachi, who has spent almost four decades on the Nagara River, notices significant changes in the fish population, attributing it to unpredictable weather patterns and alterations in the riverbed caused by flood barriers.
The nightly fishing routine, a captivating spectacle for tourists, involves cormorants catching ayu under the glow of a swinging basket of flames. Yet, the haul has diminished, leading the Adachi family to source their ayu from local fishmongers.
Adachi points to increased sand and gravel in the riverbed, impacting the size of ayu. Scientific studies from Gifu University support his observations, indicating rising temperatures and changes in the fish’s habitat.
Further downstream, in Gifu City, cormorant fishermen face similar challenges. Environmental shifts disrupt tourism operations, prompting creative solutions like elevated viewing decks for visitors.
For Adachi, passing on the tradition to his son, Toichiro, is a heartfelt aspiration. However, the 22-year-old is torn between his family legacy and the pragmatic demands of a modern career in high-precision machine tools.
“I want my son to inherit my job, but it’s tough to make a living,” Adachi laments. The looming uncertainty of the future and the impact of environmental changes cast a shadow over this ancient practice, raising questions about its sustainability and continued relevance.