S. Korea Salmon Fest Highlights Dwindling Fish Populati

James Card in Yangyang, South Korea
for National Geographic News
November 3, 2006

At the sound of a whistle, participants armed with hand nets, work gloves, or simply their bare hands charged into the ankle-deep water along South Korea's Namdae River.

Their goal: to snatch the hundreds of chum salmon caught at sea and stuffed into a 50-yard (45.7-meter) netted stretch of the waterway for the annual Yangyang Salmon Festival, held this year on October 21 and 22.

The fish scattered as people splashed into the river, but the animals couldn't go far, held in pools by long blue nets.

Eventually each salmon was caught, brought to the gravelly banks, and dumped into plastic shopping bags bearing the official festival logo.

"I can't catch one," cried a small girl who was having a hard time. So three volunteers wrestled a salmon into her arms and gave her another leftover fish for good measure.

In Yangyang, near the northeastern city of Sokcho (South Korea map), festivalgoers pay the equivalent of U.S. $20 to take part in the fishing frenzy, and tickets sell out fast.

Choi Jin-hwa, a Yangyang county official, says 1,900 tickets were sold this year.

But for those who miss the fishing, the festival also offers a salmon race, where competitors team up with a salmon and try to coax their fishy partner across the finish line.

In tents along the riverbank, K-pop—South Korean pop music—blares from loudspeakers for a hip-hop dance contest.

Hungry visitors can buy fresh, dried, or fried salmon. Those who catch their own can have vendors fillet and wrap the fish. Or it can be left whole and used to make an ink print on rice paper—a 2-D trophy.

Crashing Numbers

This unusual festival was started in 1996 to honor the migration of the chum salmon, the only species known to spawn in the Namdae.

Continued on Next Page >>


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