By Tamotsu Saito / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterLAKE BIWA, Shiga — In parts of Japan, some species of gobiid and cottid fish are known as gori. The Japanese expression “gorioshi,” which means bulldozing, is said to derive from gori fishing, in which fisherman aggressively reel in their catches from the bottom of bodies of freshwater.
In Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture, however, fishermen use less aggressive tactics when fishing for gori, and mainly target younger fish in Lake Biwa.
Gori fishing is currently in season at Okishima island located on the lake. Many of the island’s 276 residents make a living from fishing, with catches from the island accounting for about half of the more than 1,000 tons of fish caught annually in Like Biwa.
Crucian carp and shrimp are also major catches, along with gori and ayu Japanese trout in the summer.
Yoshinobori Amur goby, another fish caught in the lake, is also called gori or urori.
“Adult fish spawn in rivers that run into Lake Biwa, and the eggs flow into the lake and hatch there. The young fish grow to 1 to 1.5 centimeters in summer,” said Shigefumi Kanao, a curator of the Shiga prefectural Lake Biwa Museum.
At 4:30 a.m. one morning, I joined Suehiro Kakuda, 67, and his wife Atsuko, 63, as they set out to fish at a location 10 minutes from the island by boat. The surface of the lake glistened like a mirror as the sky above grew light.
Using net fishing, the couple cast their nets so that they spread out and sank in a circular pattern. Anchoring the boat, Suehiro and Atsuko worked together as they hauled in the net.
“Gori fishing is done jointly by couples in many cases. We’ve been doing this for about 35 years,” Suehiro said.
As the net emerged from the water, I saw a hint of white.
“Those are gori,” Suehiro told me. “Because we pull in the net slowly, other types of fish escape, leaving only the gori, which move slowly.”
Translucent young fish came into view as the net was hauled into the boat. The same process was repeated five or six times, yielding a total catch of about 35 kilograms.
While my hosts were still fishing, a boat operated by a trader dropped by. The young fish are sometimes sold directly from fishing boats as they perish easily.
After our excursion, Kakuda and his wife drove the boat to the lake shore in front of their house, and cooked tsukudani-style gori in a large pot by simmering the fish in soy sauce and other seasonings.
“Since long ago, fishermen have refrained from using starch syrup [to make tsukudani], using only soy sauce, sugar and mirin. They need to simmer for about 40 minutes before they’re ready,” Atsuko said.
The tsukudani had a plain flavor and did not have a peculiar odor. The sweet and savory dish goes well with rice.
Boiled gori melts in the mouth, and the fish can also be enjoyed deep-fried with other ingredients.
According to the Okishima fisheries cooperative association, catches of fish from Lake Biwa have sharply declined largely due to development of the lake shore, deterioration in water quality and the growing number of black bass and other alien species.
Since about five years ago, the association has been working to promote tourism. I enjoyed my trip to the “remote island without a sea” — where there are no cars and houses are lined up along narrow streets.
A regular ferry service makes 12 round-trips per day on weekdays between the shore of Lake Biwa and Okishima island, which is located about 1.5 kilometers offshore. At the port, members of the Okishima fisheries cooperative association sell tsukudani-style gori for ¥500 and funazushi crucian carp sushi from ¥1,500. Bento lunch boxes are also available.
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