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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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Whale meat stockpile update - December 2007

After some kind of unexpected delay, the December edition of "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products" was made public on Monday 18 at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries homepage.

As I mentioned last week, I've got figures dating back to 2001 now also, so those figures are incorporated into the graphs below.

December 2007 outgoing stock: 448 tonnes

As far as recent times go, the December outgoing figure was very small, well below the recent average level. We have to look back to prior to the commencement of JARPA II to find a similar value for a December. The 2007 figure is roughly equivalent to the 443 tonnes that left stock in December 2002, however in 2002, 443 tonnes was around the monthly average outgoing stock level in that year, whereas 448 for 2007 is about 50% below the 2007 average.

December 2007 incoming stock: 309 tonnes

This level of incoming stock volume for December 2007 is basically the same as that for December 2006 (308 tonnes).

December 2007 end-of-month stockpile: 3,371 tonnes

The net of the normal incoming and low outgoing volumes for the month only saw a minor decline in overall stock levels to the end of 2007.

Nonetheless, the end of December level for 2007 was lower than not only that of 2006 (3,904 tonnes), but also 2005 and 2004 as well (3,511 and 3,634 tonnes respectively).

In recent years, stock levels have fallen around 600 - 700 tonnes from each December to the end of the following February, and on that basis we may expect the stock level to fall to around 2,700 tonnes, before the by-product from the current JARPA II cruise hits the figures in March/April.

However, the situation is a little different this year with the lower than normal outgoing volumes at year end, and additional media attention on whaling in January and February perhaps also likely to benefit sales. On the other side of the coin, wholesale prices were slightly higher in 2007 than in 2006.

Graph: Outgoing stock (cumulative)

Like last month, I've created a graph for outgoing volumes showing the cumulative increase in volume as the year progresses. With the extra figures dating back to 2001, basically the graphs get more crowded, but the pattern doesn't change even if we look back to 2001 - annual outgoing stock volumes in 2006 and 2007 have been way higher than in previous years.

Graph: Incoming stock (cumulative)

And here is the picture for incoming stock. The final gap between 2006 and 2007 is pretty much what you see with the difference between March / April between the two years. Lower incoming stock earlier in the year translates into the gap we see at the end of the year.

Graph: Monthly stockpile movements

Here are the monthly stock movements and overall stock level dating back to the start of 2001. As you can see in the graph, years 2001, 2003 and 2004 all have small incoming spikes at the start of the year than 2002 and 2005. I'll come back to this in a later post.

Graph: Regional whale meat stockpiles

This graph now includes regional figures back to 2001. Furthermore the historical data for 2001 through 2005 I have available includes stockpile figures for not only just the top 7 regions, but all regions surveyed (if you look closely you'll see the number of lines is fewer in the 2006 and 2007 period). I'll look to bring more information about these regions in a subsequent post also. The point that is made with this graph is that significant amounts of stock tend to hit a single location, before initially rapidly, then gradually falling back down again.

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Information on the survey upon which these figures is based can be found here, and my MS Excel compiliation of these figures can be obtained here.

The January 2008 figures are scheduled to be released by the Ministry on March 10. I may not be able to blog them though, in which case I'll possible do a single update with the February figures when they come out in April.

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Survey specification of "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products"

On a pretty much monthly basis I have been covering the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries's "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", with a focus on "whale" in particular.

Some people have mentioned to me that sometimes there are small jumps in the values between months, and other people have asked me about what exactly is included in the survey.

The survey specification is detailed in the PDF documents included in each monthly release, and below is my rough translation of it.

* * *

[Survey Specification]

1 Survey Purpose
This survey has as it's purpose studying incoming and outgoing volumes of fishery products in nationwide refrigeration facilities, to elucidate trends in fishery product stocks, promote demand and supply planning for fishery products, and for price stabilization policy.

2 What the survey covers
The survey's scope is 41 cities and towns designated as "production areas", and 14 cities, wards and towns designated as "consumption areas". Of the refrigeration facilities from within these surveyed cities, wards, towns and villages having main power capability of more than 10 HP, facilities have been selected up to 80% of total refrigeration capacity.
However, regarding the Tokyo city wards and Osaka city, all commercial refrigeration facilities with refrigeration capacity of 10,000 tonnes or more are covered by the survey.

3 Number of surveyed facilities
At the outset of 2007, the number of surveyed facilities was 704.
Note that the number of facilities surveyed can vary due to facility closures, newly established facilities, and facilities suspending operations.

4 Survey method
The survey method is based upon notifications from surveyed facilities and inspection of materials or questioning by survey conducters.

5 Summary method
Monthly Incoming Stock Volume and Monthly Outgoing Stock Volume are summed respectively. The Month-End Stock Volume is calculated as the previous month's Month-End Stock Volume plus Monthly Incoming Stock Volume, less the Monthly Outgoing Stock Volume.

6 Target (actual) precision
No target precision is set for this survey.

7 Explanation of terms
(1) "Versus previous month" value for Monthly Incoming Stock Volume and Monthly Outgoing Stock Volume.

This month's Monthly Incoming / Outgoing Stock Volume (A) divided by the previous month's Monthly Incoming / Outgoing Stock Volume (B), multiplied by 100

(David's supplementary: I.e, (A/B) x 100)

Because of this, when a change in the surveyed facilities occurs, fluctuations caused by this are included in the figures.

(2) "Versus previous month" value for Month-End Stock Volume

This month's Month-End Stock Volume (A) divided by this month's value for
the Previous Month's Month-End Stock Volume (B), multiplied by 100

(David's supplementary: I.e, (A/B) x 100)

Note that when changes in the surveyed facilities occur, this month's value for Previous Month 's Month-End Stock Volume and the Month-End Stock Volume of the previous month's survey may not match.

(3) "Versus same month in previous year" for Monthly Incoming Stock
Volume, Monthly Outgoing Stock Volume and Month-End Stock Volume

This month's Monthly Incoming, Outgiong, Month-End Stock Volume for facilities continuing in the survey (A) divided by the Monthly Incoming, Outgoing, Month-End Stock Volume for facilities continuing in the survey from the same month last year (B), multipled by 100

(David's supplementary: I.e, (A/B) x 100)

8 Other
The values of the results of this statistical survey are round numbers, and finalized values will be published in the "Statistics on Distribution of Fishery Products Yearbook" publication.

* This statiscal survey's results are published on the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries homepage's statistical information.
[ http://www.maff.go.jp/j/tokei/ ]
The data is classified under "Fisheries".

* * *

Above is what's available in the official PDF. Below I present some supplementary information as well.

Particularly with regards to the "whale" figures, people have asked me about what sort of meat is included. Specifications for individual fishery products aren't given, besides the name of the fishery product, so I asked the Ministry about it via their webpage enquiry facility back in March 2007. What they told me when they responded was (my translation):
Regarding the species of whale handled in the "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", as nothing in particular is specified for the survey, it is not known whether small cetacean species etc are included in addition to the by-product of research whaling and whales entangled in set fishing nets.
For those of us interested in whale meat stocks, it would be good if the Ministry did explicitly specify that meats from large cetaceans (whales) and small cetecean fisheries be reported separately. Sometime in the early 2000's the Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS) law was revised, and JAS guidelines (apparently non-binding) recommend that retailers label their products with species name, rather than simply "whale" (kujira), which can mean either large whale or small cetacean. This is also important from a consumer point of view, as meat from smaller cetaceans is reportedly high enough in contaminants that excessive consumption could pose health risks. I might send this suggestion to them and see what they say.

Another noteworthy thing is that it was post the introduction of the commercial whaling moratorium, small cetacean hunts expanded in scale in Japan. Historically it seems consumption of such meat was limited to regional areas with history of consumption, but with the drastic drop in supply of whale meat products, demand saw small cetacean hunts dramatically expand in size. Apparently up to 40,000 Dall's porpoises were hunted in some years immediately after the moratorium was imposed, and prices for the meat reportedly sky-rocketed by up to 10 times. This was a negative side effect of the moratorium that it's proponents would probably not have intended.

By the early 1990's, a quota system was in place for the Dall's porpoise fishery, and today harvest levels are reportedly around 16,000 a year (slightly within official quotas, and making up around 80% of all cetaceans hunted by Japan each year). However if sustainable commercial whaling were to resume, it seems likely to me that increased whale meat supply would see demand for meat of Dall's porpoises drop even further.

Incidentally, in relation to these frozen fishery product statistics, the Dall's porpoise hunts take place almost all year round, although open and closed seasons differ from region to region. Most of this hunting takes place in northern Japan. Looking at the figures, my guess is that these meats are included in the stockpile figures.



(Slightly) Historical whale meat stock movement statistics

According to their release last month, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was today scheduled to release the December update of their "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", however for some reason the data hasn't been made available yet. Presumably it will become available later this week, and I'll blog the whale meat stats from it some time once the figures are available.

However, I found some older statistical data at the Ministry's homepage, so in the meantime I'll introduce it in this entry.

Incidently, I was wondering if there was an official English translation of the statistics (the Japanese title for these statistics is 冷蔵水産物流通統計), and found on their English homepage that the Ministry refers to this information as "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", so I'll use that myself going forward.

Now then, what are these older statistics I've found?

In recent months, a note was added to the "Other" section at the end of the Japanese PDF noting that the statistical data presented is also available in an annually accumulated format at the Ministry's "General database of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries statistical information", which can be accessed on the Ministry's homepage. The URL for this database is here although the information is all in Japanese (and you are expected to have MS Excel to access the data). It seems that this database has been created around a year ago.

Anyway, the "Statistics on Distribution of Fishery Products Yearbook" (my translation of 水産物流通統計年報) section of the database can be accessed here.

As of the time of this writing, statistical information from years 2001 through 2005 is available. (Click on the year: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005). Data for 2006 and 2007 isn't available here yet, but (almost all of) the same information can be derived from the monthly updates that I have been covering, which are available from February 2004.

Complicating things for me somewhat, the data is presented in a different format to the monthly updates (all broken up into different files for incoming, outgoing, end-of-month volumes, as well as volumes by region), but essentially with all of this in hand it's possible to extend the graphs I have been presenting up until now back as far as 2001. I'll include these older figures in my subsequent monthly updates.

Also, the regional figures in the database are more detailed than those in the monthly updates - there is a stock figure given for all of the regions and towns surveyed, rather than just the top seven. I've taken a rough look at these already, to examine how the data matches up with information (in Japanese) at the ICR's homepage about whale meat by-product sold at auction. Briefly, what I noticed was that after certain JARPA cruises returned to port, it appears as if the full volume of the by-product isn't always reflected in the stock statistics, judging by the volumes reported. One example I found was where it appears the JARPA fleet returned to port in Kochi prefecture, Shikoku, but in this month, the stockpile didn't increase by as much as expected based on the ICR's information. I need to double check, but it appears as if no refrigeration facilities in Kochi prefecture are included in the stockpile survey (the survey covers "major" storage facilities nationwide, not every single one). On the other hand, the figures do reconcile fine when the by-product appears to have been stored in facilities at a major port, such as one case where the JARPA fleet docked back in Japan at Nagasaki. This means that in some time periods the nationwide incoming and end-of-month stock figures for whale meat reported in the survey will have been under representations of the actual situation, but the same would also be true of the outgoing stock figures as well. Overall, it's no reason to not take the survey results as being indicative of the trends in the distribution of whale meat stock, but something worth keeping in mind when looking at fluctuations. I hope to look at this aspect of the survey as it applies to whale meat more in future and detail it here.

Finally, another completely different set of annual statistics is also available which shows the average monthly incoming, outgoing, and end-of-stock volumes for the years 1992 through 2005 (access here). The whale meat figures are in column "AI" of the three excel sheets at this page. I calculated averages for 2006 and 2007 using the monthly updates (only up to November 2007 as of today), and graphed the incoming and outgoing stock monthly averages for these years:

As is evident from the graph, the incoming and outgoing volumes are roughly equivalent in most years, with only 1992 and 2004 providing really significant exceptions. Generally speaking, with retail prices for whale meat still regarded as relatively high, I have the impression that there is potential for even higher levels of consumption if the distribution chain were to have extra product made available to it.

* * *

The whale meat dish at the top of this page was a very tasty offering from Asakusa's Yuushin restaurant. The restaurant's homepage is here. The shop owner kindly agreed to allow me to take some photographs of other items within the shop, and I'll use these in subsequent entries.



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