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Cormorant fishing season ends in central Japan with record low tour boat passenger numbers

GIFU -- Cormorant fishing boats on the Nagara River in this central Japan city marked their final day of the fishing season on Oct. 15, after seeing a record low number of passengers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

    This year the number of tour boat passengers plunged to 15,310, down 83% from the previous year and the lowest figure since 1965, when records began.

    Cormorant fishing is a traditional type of fishing in which leashed cormorants are used to catch fish. It is believed to have continued for more than 1,300 years in the city of Gifu.

    A cormorant fishing boat on the Nagara River is seen in the city of Gifu on Oct. 15, 2020, the final day of the season. (Mainichi/Sawako Kumagai)

    The annual May 11 event to mark the launch of the season's fishing was postponed this year for the first time since the end of World War II, with the season kicking off 11 days later. The start of sightseeing boat services was pushed back accordingly to June 15. The swelling of the river due to prolonged rains in July also led to fishing operations being canceled frequently, while the number of passengers on tour boats was halved to avoid crowding amid the pandemic.

    This year the sightseeing boats operated for a total of 102 days, about 40 days fewer than usual and the lowest figure ever. Before 2020, the lowest number of passengers had been 76,330, recorded in 2018 when total operating days fell to 115 due to heavy rains.

    The centerpiece for tourism in the city was expected to welcome more passengers as public broadcaster NHK's historical drama series "Kirin ga Kuru" featuring 16th century samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide, who is thought to have lived in Gifu Prefecture, is being broadcast in 2020.

    Motoo Hayashi, 53, director of the Gifu City Cormorant Fishing Observation Boat Office, said, "It was an especially major blow that the number of chartered boat users was down drastically because people refrained from holding events for business partners and parties."

    (Japanese original by Tomohiro Inoue, Gifu Bureau)

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