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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



Whale consumption doubles - 50% increase in shipments since 2002 alone

The Japanese population consumed more than 8,000 tons of whale and small cetacean products in each of the previous two years, according to official statistics released Monday.

Volumes of whale meat shipped out of nationwide refrigeration facilities soared over the 8,000 ton mark for the second year running in 2007, putting annual whale consumption levels higher than any time since at least 1991 when Japan ceased whale meat imports from Iceland. Levels of outgoing volume were also 50% higher than those of 2002, with the most marked increases coming since 2005.

The significant consumption increase occured subsequent to recent expansions in Japan's controversial research whaling programmes, which dispose of whale meat 'by-product' via central and regional wholesale markets around the whaling nation.

The finding was confirmed in the December 2007 edition of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", and comes following a recent Asahi newspaper opinion poll that found a majority of Japanese regard whale as a source of food.

Anti-whaling campaign groups claim that the government has been attempting to fuel consumption by measures such as providing meat at discount price for school lunches, although other official figures show the total amount of meat allocated for such purposes accounts for only 8% of total annual outgoing whale meat stock volume.

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Good work on compiling the data. It really helps put the issue in perspective.
Good site, you have some impressive graphs. I have a question about fishery statistics for you. Is this skewed at all? I hear about all this surveys of poeple no longer really eating whale meat. If these are not accurate, why is there even a stock pile?

The graphs are of raw, official distribution figures. I covered the spec of the survey from which these statistics are derived here. One journalist recently put it to me that the government could be manipulating the statistics. Of course we can't know for sure, so its a question of whether one believes in conspiracy theories. I also note that anti-whaling groups are happy enough using the end-of-month stock figures in their attempts to suggest that 'there is no market for whale meat', i.e. they seem to accept the figures themselves, even if they are suspiciously selective in their use and interpretation of them.

As for 'poeple no longer really eating whale meat', it depends on your point of reference. Consumption peaked in the early 1960's at around 220,000 tons, but this was before any serious attempt by the IWC to regulate whaling on a sustainable basis. In the early 1980's Russia and Japan were sharing an Antarctic minke whale quota of around 5,000 - 8,000 whales annually (stats), with most if not all of the meat being sold in Japan I believe. The reduction to this level of production was the result of quotas being restricted for conservation reasons, rather than a lack of demand. Then of course the 'moratorium' ended even commercial whaling of minke whales (which were later recognised to number in the hundreds of thousands). Indeed far fewer less meat is consumed now than back in the 1960's and 1980's.

But there is more meat in circulation now than in the mid 1990's, and the figures suggest a corresponding increase in consumption.

So it depends on your point of reference but more importantly if you look at the historical context it's the supply side rather than the demand side that has been really changing.

There is a stockpile for the same reason there is a stockpile of anything. The market keeps a supply of whale meat available so that it can be sold to customers all year round. The tuna stockpile, incidently, is much higher than the whale meat one, yet no one ever suggests that the Japanese do not like tuna.
hi David. V useful blog. I've been searching without any luck for information on how whales are butchered - which bits are used for which dishes, what the step by step process is for the butcher, etc - I guess any information out there would probably be in Japanese, which I don't speak. You don't have any ideas of where I could look, do you? I'm a graphics researcher for the London Independent on Sunday newspaper and we're trying to put together an informative sidebar to go with a piece about the IWC meeting this weekend. If you had a chance to drop me a line today or tomorrow I'd be really grateful - my email is a dot bland at independent dot co dot uk.

The Independent on Sunday is an atrocious rag when it comes to reporting conservation and wildlife issues.
Frankly, I'd be ashamed to work there if those issues were of any importance to me.
The Independent's lack of objectivity is just showing more and more the irrelevance of mainstream corporate media in the age of the internet.
Hi David,
While the figures show more consumption via the fact that it has been distributed, perhaps one of the market keys is to know how much $$$ is being collected and does this relate to a sale price on the kg.

The fact that this meat is in distribution says little of what the commercial market for it is when at the moment there does seem to be market development ging on and then there is usually lots of free product sample around.

Currently these figures show some robustness, but fails to address the commercial demand.

After all school meal left overs are not subtracted, to reflect what was consumed. Of, course this would likely ed up on a pig farm..I see the production of pork in Japan is on the rise too.
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