The Stilt Fishermen Of Sri Lanka

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The Dying Tradition of Sri Lankan Stilt Fishing, Captured in Powerful Photos

Stilt fishing is a method of fishing unique to the island country of Sri Lanka, located off the coast of India in 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.

sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel

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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.

sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel




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The catch is meager – 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. The 2004 tsunami that devastated much of the Indian Ocean coastline forever altered the Sri Lankan shoreline and reduced access to fish using this method. 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.

It’s not known whether the men in the pictures below are real fishermen or just actors.

sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel

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sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel

Photo Credit

sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel




Photo Credit

sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel

Photo Credit




sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel

Photo Credit

sri lanka, Stilt Fishermen, dying tradition, unawatuna, weligama, travel

Photo Credit

Stilt fisherman catches a big one! Sri Lanka

The famous Sri Lanka stilt fishermen in action. Camera man was lucky enough to catch one of them pulling in a small fish. He calmly places it into his bag and continues on.




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