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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 meat stockpile update - May 2008

Another month has gone by, and we have another release of MAFF's "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products" to devour for whale meat stockpile information (PDF, Excel).

Since April there was an announcement about the by-product from the JARPA II cruise, which I introduced here.

Figures this time are for May.

When looking at these figures we often see they are reconcilable with events happening throughout the year in relation to the activities of the government's research whaling activities. In May one such event was the conclusion of the coastal component of the JARPN II programme conducted in the Sanriku area (Pacific coast off north eastern Japan) on May 18 (MAFF, ICR announcements in Japanese). 60 minke whales were caught in this programme this year, during April and May, so in terms of the May stockpile figures there would only be a limited impact expected in any case, but additionally the by-product whale meat resulting from the coastal components of the JARPN II programme is (at least mainly) sold fresh, rather than put into cold storage. Hence, no very notable amount of incoming stock is expected due to that activity.

On the other hand, a new dimension to the supply side of the whale meat market has now eventuated, namely the export/import of whale meat products from Iceland and Norway to Japan. News of this movement broke at the start of June, although reports indicated that the whale meat in question had already arrived in Japan, so it was likely here in late May. However, while noting that there was no legal issue with the trade, government officials stated that they had not yet received notice of the trade. As noted by the Suisan Keizai newspaper, the paperwork required to complete the trade is not trivial and so some (unknown) amount of time will seemingly be required to complete it. Recent statements made suggest that this was still the case as of the beginning of July. The whale meat, in the meantime, is said to be held in a customs storage facility.

So, with that in mind let's see what the figures show for the month to the end of May.

May 2008 outgoing stock: 464 tons

Just a typical May on the outgoing stock front. This figure of 464 tons is a tad up on the figure for May 2007.

May 2008 incoming stock: 514 tons

This figure is a very big one for a May. It is by far the largest incoming stock volume for a May since at least 2001 (as far back as the figures I have go), and represents a 237% increase on the incoming volume for the same month last year.

337 tons of this figure came into what MAFF classifies as "consumption areas", and the remaining 177 tons were recorded as moving into the other "production areas". We'll see some specifics about this below in the regional stockpile figure information.

May 2008 end-of-month stockpile: 3,690 tons

The stockpile is down to 92% of the volume it was at the same time last year, although it moved up 50 tons on April.

Keep in mind that a large chunk of this is confirmed as not being for sale as of May.

May 2008 top stockpile regions

The top stockpile regions, their stockpile levels and movement since the previous month are shown in the table below:

Stockpile size at
month end
Stockpile size at
previous month end
Tokyo city wards2,074

The biggest mover this month was a complete newcomer - Funabashi.

Funabashi is a designated "consumption area", situated in Chiba prefecture just to the east of Tokyo. Funabashi wasn't noted in the top 7 regions in April figures, and as the 7th placed region at the end of April held 102 tons, we can deduce that at least 216 tons of the 318 recorded as being situated in Funabashi storage facilities at the end of May was not present in there as of the end of April.

This sudden leap in stock stored in Funabashi doesn't appear to be an artifact of MAFF's survey method (at least, the April survey end-of-month stockpile volume of 3,640 tons matches the May survey end-of-previous-month stockpile volume exactly).

As far as figures for Funabashi go, this is the first time any significant level of volume has been recorded there, although I only have detailed figures for between 2001 and 2005. During that time period, stocks were recorded as fluctuating between 10 and 20 tons in any given month.

As such, the 318 tons held in Funabashi at the end of May represents quite an unusual event.

So where has the whale meat come from? My speculation for this month is that at least some of this meat is related to the Iceland / Norway trade matter. Funabashi city is located in the same prefecture as Narita airport, which is the likely port of entry for the wares from the North Atlantic, and thus possibly the location where the product is being stored while the import procedures are in progress.

However, the volume of meat recorded in Funabashi is 318 tons, of which at least 200 tons (maybe much more) can't be accounted for. The recent trade from Iceland and Norway to Japan was reported to have only involved between 60 and 80 tons of product.

Next month's movements may give some more hints as to the nature of the meat stored in Funabashi.

Graph: Annual volumes

Graph: Monthly volumes

Graph: Outgoing stock (cumulative)

Graph: Incoming stock (cumulative)

Graph: Regional whale meat stockpiles

* * *

June 2008 figures will be out on August the 8th.

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