The stilt fishermen of Galle

The south of Sri Lanka is known for its culture and its beaches, and if you put them together you may be lucky enough to witness this fishing phenomenon!

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Stilt fishing is a method of fishing unique to the island country of Sri Lanka, known as “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. The fishermen sit on a cross bar called a ‘petta’ tied to a vertical pole and driven into the sand a few meters offshore. From this high position, the fishermen casts his line, and waits until a fish comes along to be caught. Although the approach looks primitive and ancient, stilt fishing is actually a recent tradition.

stiltfish

The practice is believed to have started during World War II when food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted some clever men to try fishing on the water. At first they started fishing from wrecks of capsized ships and downed aircraft, then some began erecting their stilts in coral reefs. The skills were then passed on to at least two generations of fishermen living along a 30 km stretch of southern shore between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama.

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The catch is meagre – either a variety of spotted herring or small mackerel, and the returns these fishermen pull from the sea are dwindling. The practice is unlikely to last much longer other than as a tourist attraction to people like me. The 2004 tsunami of the Indian Ocean forever altered the Sri Lankan shoreline and reduced access to fish using this method.

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Fishing stops entirely during the annual monsoons. Today, few fisherman are willing to pass their stilts to their sons, instead renting them to “actors” who pose as fishermen for photographers and tourists. Whether they were real or acting, it was certainly a nice sight to see them ply their trade on the coastline in Galle.

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15 thoughts on “The stilt fishermen of Galle

  1. Reblogged this on The EndPoint Business Blog and commented:
    I find it fascinating that some of the fishermen may actually be actors. And I can’t help noticing how beautiful the waters look – no wonder Sri Lanka was known before the war as the isle of Serendipity and Paradise. Can’t believe I still haven’t made my way there yet.

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    1. Lanka has some amazing beaches, but I find lots of them to be quite rocky, and needless to say the seas are quite rough most of the time. Still, I agree with you about these fishermen – there could be something very ‘fishy’ going on if they were really actors… 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That was something I didn’t expect but makes it a lot more fascinating. I have a preference for soft sand beaches like those in Australia, but I still hope I get to Sri Lanka & her beaches on day.

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        1. I’m currently writing a blog about the beaches of Sri Lanka, should be up next week sometime. I haven’t been to the north or eastern sides of Lanka, but the west and south have a lot of popular resorts.

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    1. No problem, thanks for reading! 🙂 I know there is a similar kind of fishing (albeit on an industrial scale) off the coast of Kerala in south western India, which the region is famous for, but I don’t know much about it.

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  2. That’s something unique. It’s understandable that it’s unlikely to last. It’s a shame but I wouldn’t want to bake in the sun either for a likely meager catch.

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      1. Would it be alright to use one of your stilt fisherman photos for my blog? Each month (maybe that often) I want to feature 10 interesting blogs/bloggers with my impression of them on my blog (on blog post). You would of course be credited since there would be a paragraph about your blog and a link.

        Is this alright? You can contact me through my FB group page (or in these comments) if you have any questions https://www.facebook.com/TaiwansWaterfalls?ref=hl

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  3. Nice pictures taken. I’m planning a trip to Sri Lan next year. To take photograph of the stilt fishermen is one of my plan. I tried seach the location, transpot and accomadation to this fishing village but not much information. Please advise me how to go to this village and where to stay. Your pictures were taken in the morning and sunset time so how many days you stay there? How much do we hav to tip the ‘acting fishermen’? You can reply me through email or in this post.

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    1. Polhenna Beach near Weligama is a great spot for taking photos. It usually isn’t very touristy either. I stayed in Galle for a few nights, but was only in the Weligama area for a day – and not all of the fishermen will ask for a fee, I found that some were happy to pose for tourists free of charge.

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