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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



More on Iceland's fin whale meat

We got an update earlier in the month on the status of the new commercial whaling operation being run in Iceland by Kristjan Loftsson.

As one might expect, Greenpeace have gone off and put their propaganda machine to work:

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Greenpeace swings and misses

Endangered Whales – Hunted, Stockpiled and Left to Rot on a Rubbish Dump
Nice headline guys... but really?
The Icelandic government's claims of sustainable whaling were harpooned today, after Greenpeace revealed that around 200 tonnes of meat and blubber from endangered fin whales are still in storage, waiting to be tested for chemical contamination and a further 179 tonnes of bones and entrails have been dumped in a landfill site. This information has come to light after an investigation by Greenpeace campaigners in Icelanc.
1) What's wrong with a commercial operator confirming the safety of it's product for human consumption? I'd like to know the product were safe before I buy some (and if I can get my hands on some once it arrives in Tokyo you know I will!)

2) Bones aren't exactly edible, last time I heard. In fact, people tend to use them for other purposes, like carving. Nor is the market for "entrails" on fire. How many westerners out there enjoy cow intestines on a regular basis?

(As it happens, with some whale species, such as the Antarctic minke, pretty much the entire whale can be consumed, but in many species found in the northern hemisphere, contaminant levels in the internals of the animal are above recommended consumption limits.)
The Icelandic whale meat and blubber are intended for export to Japan, despite whaler´s claims that some of the generated product is not fit for human consumption.
Who wants a bet that this statement is a typical Greenpeace misinterpretation of what was actually said?
The Japanese whaling fleet is currently preparing to hunt 10 more fin whales and 935 minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, despite having massive stockpiles of more than 4400 tonnes of unsold whale meat in freezers in Japan.
"Massive" stockpiles? There was more than 1,300,000 tonnes of frozen marine product in stockpiles in Japan at the end of November 2006. On what scale is the 4,400 tonnes of whale meat that was in stock at that point in time "massive"?

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Icelanders respond

Environment protection organization Greenpeace claims that the meat of the whales that were hunted in Iceland last autumn cannot be sold in Japan and is consequently piling up.

According to Fréttabladid, Greenpeace spokesman Frode Pleym said there is a very limited market for whale meat in Japan and that it is used for school kitchens and dog food, leaving no reason to continue whaling.

“These supplies don’t scare me. Weren’t they talking about 4,700 tons? That is comparable to every Japanese eating 37 grams of whale a year. Or if one-fifth of the nation would eat whale once a year, this would be enough for one 200-gram steak for each person,” Kristján Loftsson, the director of whaling company Hvalur hf. told Morgunbladid.

He added: “These are almost no supplies at all, if they are right that is. These guys [Greenpeace] are hardly ever right. It is not favorable for business to have no supplies […]. Samples from the meat are being investigated to see if it contains heavy metal such as quick silver and PCB. It is complicated and takes a long time.”

Jón Gunnarsson, the director of Sjávarnytjar ehf., told Fréttabladid: “We have investigated the whale meat market in Japan very carefully and this product is sold there for a high price. […] Nothing indicates that we won’t be able to sell the whale meat.”

The Greenpeace figures of 4,400 tonnes at the end of November 2006 are correct (I corrected them myself), but where they are wrong is in trying to make out that this amount of meat constitutes a "massive" stock, as I illustrate above with some context.

Loftsson is dead right to point out that it is not good business to be out of stock. When your consumers want something, you need to be able to supply it - and the bulk of the whale meat in the Japanese market arrives in March/April and again during the summer months. For the rest of the year, supply is very limited. It has to be stocked to ensure availability for consumers during those times.

I also concur with Mr. Gunnarsson. From a demand perspective, there is going to be no problem selling the meat, it's just a matter of the paperwork. I'm not sure what that entails, but I assume that DNA samples from the whale meat to allow market monitoring will probably be required by officials for market monitoring purposes.

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