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Cormorant fishing season in central Japan city underway with anti-virus measures

Tourists aboard boats watch as a fishing master controls cormorants in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, on May 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Sawako Kumagai)

SEKI, Gifu -- Cormorant fishing and the operation of tourist boats in the Oze district in this central Japan city began on the night of May 15, four days later than usual due to the spread of coronavirus infections.

    This marks the second year in a row for delays due to COVID-19. Operators will consider halting the traditional fishing events if the Japanese government declares a state of emergency for Gifu Prefecture.

    Though cormorant fishing had been planned to begin on May 11, it was postponed because a group of elementary school students in the city had canceled their reservation to observe the fishing method due to a state of emergency declaration issued by the prefectural government following the spread of infections. Boat operators are reducing the number of passengers to some 70% of capacity, and are taking measures to prevent infections by prohibiting drinking and eating on the boats.

    On May 15, three cormorant boats conducted fishing while a total of 53 people who had reserved spots on five tourist boats paid close attention to the fishing masters' techniques to control cormorants with ropes while using a large fire to provide light for the boatmen to steer and for the birds to fish.

    Kie Ishihara, a 33-year-old part-time worker who was visiting with her family of three from the neighboring city of Minokamo, commented, "I was moved by the fishing masters controlling cormorants to catch sweetfish before my eyes. I was also relieved by the infection prevention measures." Her daughter Ayana, 7, a second grader, said with a smile, "I saw many cormorants and sweetfish. The fishing scenes were beautiful."

    Takeshi Yamada, president of tourist boat operator Seki Yusen Co., told the Mainichi Shimbun, "If a state of emergency is declared (by the central government), I think about 80% of boat tours will not be able to operate." But he added, "Cormorant fishing is an outdoor activity without eating or drinking. We hope to continue operating."

    (Japanese original by Sawako Kumagai, Gifu Bureau)

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