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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



Ghana - Day 1

In mid-March I took a trip with my lovely wife to Ghana. It was a short but great trip and I wish we had been able to spend more time there.

How did it come about? When the idea of going to Ghana came up it was a very much a "now or never" decision, as my wife has a friend (KG) living and working there right now (for just a few more months), as a JOCV (Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer). My wife has an interest in Africa and African development, and for me Africa was a fascination when I was a young lad growing up in New Zealand reading Willard Price novels.

And so it was that we arrived at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, having come from the final stages of what had been a rather cold Tokyo winter. What we stepped out of our Emirates flight to was 30 degree plus heat not too unlike what we'd get here during late August or early September. If you don't know and haven't already pulled out a map to check for yourself, Ghana is located in sub-Sahara Western Africa, and the capital of Accra is located on the Southern Coast, facing towards the Gulf of Guinea.

Despite having already obtained a visa before arriving, the Airport immigration guys were pretty stern and perhaps genuinely suspicious of what we had come to Ghana for. After successfully making my way through the immigration gates, a poster on the wall gave me a clue of what sort of concerns they have about allowing people in. The poster was advising English speaking foreigners looking for tourism of the less savoury sort that it would be in everyone's best interests if such visitors went elsewhere instead.

The airport was relatively small and old compared to Haneda, Osaka and Dubai from where we had come, but later KG informed us that it had undergone some renovations in advance of the 2008 African nations soccer tournament that had been held there in January and February a few week before we were there.

We found our way through to the passenger exit of the airport, and had no trouble spotting KG amongst the crowd of otherwise mostly African people (KG lives further north in Ghana, apparently a 6 hour bus ride, and had come down to Accra to meet us). As soon as we went through the exit we had several African guys, apparently taxi drivers, offering to take us. And now some smiling faces too! Other guys tagging along were eagerly offering (or to us initiated, almost demanding) to carry our luggage for us (hopefully to the cab). We were travelling light so there was no need to accept (or submit to) these offers.

Although Ghana's official language is English, the local Twi language (so far as I understand) is what people in southern Ghana prefer to speak, and having KG with us, having been there long enough to learn the lingo and local ways of doing things, was a nice advantage. KG negotiated a taxi fare with a driver (there are no meters in most taxis - the end destination and price to get there is is negotiated and agreed upfront, and fee paid upon arrival), and we headed across the road to a car park. At this stage one of the guys demanding to carry the luggage became even more keen to help me load our luggage into the car, and so I let him do so, and got in the back passenger seat. Then, as we were about to take off the guy came around from the back of the car to my window and requested to me:
"Tip... just a small tip?"
Huh? I looked in front of me.
"What for?"
I asked KG who was in the front passenger seat. Don't worry, was the answer - the guy was just trying to get a tip for the minimum effort expended on loading our single bag into the back of the car (which I would have done myself had the guy allowed me to do so!). I still had no local currency (or USD) on me anyway, having just arrived. Apparently tipping has no origins in Ghana, but the locals created it for themselves, probably after someone realised that in places like America people get cash for providing good service. In Ghana this guy at least was trying to get a tip for an unwanted and unrequested service, so his concept was a little different :)

One of the things that really struck me as soon as we arrived and were travelling along the road was that people, mostly ladies, really do carry stuff around on their heads. It's not just when carrying things around, but also when vending things such bananas and other fruits, water, plus a myriad of other things. If you're selling something, stacking it on a neat pile on top of a big wide plate and then balancing the plate on one's head seems to be the standard way of showing that your portable vending services are open for business. What impressed me the most about this was the excellent balance displayed by all - even when walking, the wide plates balanced carefully upon heads seemed as if they were glued in place, for there was no wobble or hint that the plates might fall off. Mastering this is probably similar to learning to drive or use chopsticks though I guess.

Another thing that quickly became evident was that many Ghanaians are very religious. Christianity is apparently the main religion, and many of the buildings (shops?) we passed were adorned with one line messages of The Lord, the same goes for many vehicles. Most taxi drivers play music (often loudly, Bob Marley a favourite), but one we took in the later part of our journey was listening to a preacher on a radio show.

A further observation is that Ghanaians love their flags (as well as soccer). Again taxis and vehicles were evidence of this, many being adorned with a small flag displaying Ghana's red, yellow and green colours (if you look closely at the photo above which I took from the back seat of our taxi from the airport you can see an example).

KG had booked us a hotel in Accra's Osu area. In Tokyo terms, Osu is Accra's equivalent of Aoyama, or in Wellington terms, the equivalent of Courtney Place. Still, here most buildings are single or two storey at the most - a couple of new modern exceptions such as a recently constructed bank (with security guard) at the door stood out. One of the "landmarks" in the area is a large western supermarket called "Koala", located beside the Danquah Circle. Our hotel, which also had a Vietnamese restaurant, was a few hundred metres walk down a road from there (Chez Lien homepage).

We checked our bags into the hotel and then returned to the action area in Osu. Various souvenir shops adorned the sides of the road, and many people called out their welcomes (and again in some cases, demand-like offers) to buy some of their products. KG and my wife were greeted with numerous "Ni-haos" and the occasional "Konnichiwa" (it was obvious that there are more Chinese than Japanese in Ghana), whereas in my case I got lots of hellos and also a few of the more aggressive peddlers seemed to come my way. The sequence is they first introducing themselves by name, extend their hand, ask your name, and then after becoming acquainted immediately proceeding to request (or almost demand) that you buy their wares.

With Accra being close to the coast we figured we might be able to find a beach not far away, and indeed after walking down the main street of Osu, past various restaurants (Western and Chinese) we took a left and saw what we thought looked like a beach in the distance.

Well, my preconception of the beach was off the mark - at first. As we neared the shoreline it seemed like the smell was getting worse. When I got back to Japan later, several people said the fresh Ghana air must have been lovely. The reality in Accra, which is a fairly heavily populated city, is that an abundance of older vehicles (= stinky exhaust fumes) and under-developed infrastructure (open sewers, or urination in public once you get away from the main road) means the air was not as great as one might blissfully imagine. And at least in terms of infrastructure the situation was worse as we headed away from Osu and down towards the beach we had spotted. Instead of finding a beach we got the impression that we were heading into a shoreline slum or rubbish dump instead, but after checking with a local we got a confirmation that we could get to the beach if we continued on in the direction we were heading.

As you can see, we found the beach. It looked like quite a flash joint on the promontory you see in the distance there, but we were just out for an afternoon stroll before taking it easy in the evening after our flight, so after relaxing near the boats you see there on the right, we turned around and headed back to the hotel. Kana got some nicer photos with the digital camera (below)

Here's an instance of the carrying-stuff-on-the-head thing, although most people don't use their hands at all:

On the way back we got some photos of the local living conditions (this is just beside the beach, inshore):

That was pretty much it for us that day - we went back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of it being tired from our journey from the other side of the world.

We decided not to go so far to have dinner - just to the front desk of the hotel in fact, where the restaurant / bar was located. This was the night when we would enjoy our first Star beer. Star is Ghana's local brew and it is a mighty fine brew indeed.

I'll finish with some photos of the art that decorated the walls of our hotel room that we stayed in that night.

The Ghana saga will continue...

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Whale meat stockpile prospects in 2nd quarter 2008

While Japan's stockpile of whale meat hit a 4-year low at the end of February, the low level of stock is likely to jump back to above the 4,000 ton mark once the April month-end figures are released.

Firstly the Oriental Bluebird is said to have returned to port in Tokyo on March 29. This vessel has been employed for refuelling purposes, but also ships some of the whale meat obtained back to Japan. I presume the frozen meat on board the Oriental Bluebird was offloaded into refrigeration facilities in time to be included in the incoming and month-end stockpile figures for the March edition of "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products".

On the other hand, the Nisshin Maru was originally earmarked for a return to port in the southern Kyushu island port of Kagoshima. However, as both English (Reuters) and Japanese (Nikkei, Mainichi, Tokyo Shimbun) language news media are reporting today, the Nisshin Maru is now going to be returning to port in Tokyo, as the Japan Coast Guard and Tokyo Police Department need to conduct investigations into the obstruction incidents that occurred in the Antarctic Ocean in the first few months of the year. The Nisshin Maru is apparently due to arrive in Tokyo on the 15th, so additional by-product meat being returned to Japan via this vessel should probably be reflected in the official stockpile figures from the April edition, to be released in early June.

Additionally, Japan's Fisheries Agency announced on Friday that the first coastal component of the JARPN II programme will commence from today, the 14th, running through until the end of May. The announcement notes that the survey aims at gathering data relating to effects of cetacean feeding on other fisheries resources. The ICR is in charge of the study, which will be conducted in seas around Ayukawa, Ishinomaki city in the north eastern prefecture of Miyagi. 4 catcher boats will be used, and up to 60 minke whales may be caught.The study involves identification of prey species contained within the whales' stomachs, measurement of the volume of stomach contents, and the collection of other biological data. Another vessel is employed as a prey species study vessel, and will cruise along a predetermined survey path, using fishfinding instruments (a bit like this) and trawl nets.

The whale meat by-product that results from this is handled differently to that being brought back from the Antarctic programme, as the data collection will be conducted at a land-station. Some portion of this whale meat is then likely to be sold straight into the marketplace fresh (popular for use as sashimi), but there will probably also be a portion put into frozen storage. So Ishinomaki stock figures may rise in April and May depending on the progress of this programme.

Back to Kagoshima though, the local Minami Nihon newspaper has an interesting report on the side-effect for the regional economy of the NisshinMaru having to return to Tokyo for the investigations of the obstruction activity. The Nisshin Maru is going to be opened up to the public on the 26th and 27th of April at a Kagoshima city port, but with the whale meat now apparently to be offloaded in Tokyo, Kagoshima has lost the economic spinoffs of landing the whale meat, and subsequent distribution. The article notes that in the past the Nisshin Maru has docked in places such as Kanazawa and Yokohama, and have benefited through cargo handling, refrigeration storage fees, and transport fees received for shipping the meat around the country. People in Kagoshima related to the matter had estimated the economic benefit from being the port city as 100,000,000 yen. Nonetheless, the Japan Whaling Association based in Tokyo was committed to having the Nisshin Maru return to Kagoshima after the investigations in Tokyo are complete, and a Kagoshima committee set up to welcome the research fleet to their port is helping to plan the ship open-day event, and also intends to go ahead with some planned primary and middle school whale lunches.

* * *

Pictured, a slice of whale sashimi (photo courtesy of "Yushin", Asakusa)




Whale meat stockpile hits 4-year low

Japan's whale meat stocks hit a 4-year low in February, sinking to 2,485 tons at the end of the month, according to official figures from a Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries survey.

Levels of whale meat in nationwide refrigeration facilities have not been as low since 2004, when stocks had sunk as low as 1,617 tons in March that year.

Behind the recent decline in stock levels is a combination of increased volumes of stock shipped, and a supply shock in 2007, when a fire accident resulted in the second JARPA II cruise being cut short two-thirds of the way through. Outgoing stock volumes exceeded 8,000 tons in both 2006 and 2007 (8,558 and 8,148 tons respectively), but incoming stock volume dropped to 7,583 tons in 2007 versus 8,950 tons in the previous year, the effects of which reverberated through the market. Outgoing stock shipment levels in the first half had outpaced those of the previous year by almost 900 tons, but conversely ran at a lower pace in the second half, with JARPA II by-product in shorter supply than 2006. In October the Minato Shimbun, a leading fisheries industry newspaper, reported that the healthy sales and stock shortage had led to the JARPN II by-product auction being brought forward a month.

In 2008, with stocks already at low levels, whale meat distributors and retailers appear likely to find themselves in an even tighter supply situation. The third JARPA II cruise was again severely hampered by malicious obstruction from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who were subsequently condemned by the IWC in a consensus resolution at it's March intersessional meeting in London. An indirect effect of the disruption is that the research whaling by-product meat supply is likely to be similarly restricted in 2008. As stocks were at healthier levels above 3,000 tons in early 2007, there is not likely to be any room for expansion of the market in the current year. Retail price rises for whale meat in 2008 seem inevitable.



Whale meat stockpile update - February 2008

April 10 saw the February edition of "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products" released. Get your own original copy here (PDF, MS Excel formats).

2008 started out quitely in January, and things were much the same again in February.

February 2008 outgoing stock: 466 tons

Slightly up on the January figure of 410, and 82% of the value for the same month in 2007.

With less stock in storage, a proportionally lower outgoing stock was to be expected, and indeed on a proportional basis this level of outgoing stock is in line with expectations based on the February outgoing figure for 2007 and outgoing volume relative to stockpile size.

February 2008 incoming stock: 119 tonnes

Just marginally up on the very low incoming stock level recorded for January, and just 32% of the February value for last year.

February 2008 end-of-month stockpile: 2,485 tons

The total stockpile figure was down 347 from January's month end figure of 2,832 t. This stockpile figure is 84% of that from the same time last year.

February 2008 top stockpile regions

The top seven 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 wards392454-62

84% of the total stockpile is held in facilities at these top 7 regions.

Graph: Annual volumes

Graph: Outgoing stock (cumulative)

These are "updated" versions of the new graphs I introduced a few months ago. Last time for December I included all figures available (back to 2001), but as the graphs got too crowded and hard to see the new 2008 values, I've thrown away some of the older data here (2001, 2003, 2004, as there are some issues with the data from those years).

Graph: Incoming stock (cumulative)

Likewise here - data for years 2001, 2003 and 2004 have been thrown out to make this more readable.

Graph: Regional whale meat stockpiles

* * *

March 2008 figures are scheduled for release on the 9th of May.




Whale meat stockpile - more on the survey specification

Well, this post is for the readers who are really really interested in these stockpile figures, all the little details, and perhaps you could say, just how well the survey works for the whale meat stockpile figures.

January Survey Specification Change

Previously I wrote up a translation of the specification of the "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", which you can refer back to here.

The January edition of the survey specification includes a change, which resulted in a slight reduction in the coverage of storage facilities from previous surveys up to the end of 2007.

The survey specification previously stated that in the surveyed production and consumption areas, storage facilities are selected for the survey so as to cover 80% of total refrigeration capacity, but up until the end of December, the survey noted an exception to this with respect to the survey of facilities in the Tokyo and Osaka city regions. Namely, for these two major consumption areas, "all commercial refrigeration facilities with refrigeration capacity of 10,000 tonnes or more are covered by the survey".

The change in the survey specification is that this exception for Tokyo and Osaka has been dropped, as of the figures for January 2008.

As a result, fewer storage facilities are included in the survey now compared with last year. Apparently there were 704 facilities from around the nation included at the beginning of last year's statistics, but this is now down to 670.

For the whale statistics specifically, a consequence of this survey change is the discrepancy in end-of-month stock volumes that I mentioned in my post here about the January figures. Whereas in December 2007 the survey put the stockpile at 3,371 tonnes, the January 2008 survey puts the end-of-month figure for December 2007 at 3,133 tonnes (the survey includes the figure for surveyed facilities at the end of the previous month, as well at the end of the current month, i.e., 3,133 tonnes for December month-end and 2,832 tonnes for January month-end, as of the January survey). For all of the years of statistics that I have available, this is the only significant discrepancy to come about due to a change in the facilities surveyed.

Another general consequence is that going forward the incoming and outgoing figures reported in the survey also will not be reflecting movements for as many facilities, so even if the real-world picture were exactly the same, the survey results would potentially show slightly lower values, if it were facilities containing whale meat that were removed from the survey.

Reconciling Ministry Statistics With ICR Figures

This January survey change has highlighted an aspect of the survey that I had been meaning to write more on at some point, after doing some rough reconciliation of the stockpile figures shown in the Ministry's survey versus the figures released by the ICR on volumes of whale meat released into the market. The figures aren't supposed to reconcile exactly to begin with, as the Ministry figures includes meat of all cetaceans, released into the market through the full range of legal avenues, not only whale meat from research whaling programmes, but still the comparison is worth making. Below is a rough compilation of several years for which I've got both Ministry stockpile figures and ICR figures for the amount of meat made available after the annual JARPA cruise.

2001: The JARPA fleet apparently returned to Ishinomaki in April/01, however the Ministry figures for this month only indicate an increase in stock levels from 158 tonnes to 1,166 tonnes. The ICR didn't start releasing figures of the volume of meat made available until the following year, but basically it looks roughly like a 1,000 tonne increase, only. There was probably more meat than that, but it didn't show up in the figures here.

2002: The Ministry figures put the Nagasaki region stockpile at 55 tonnes as of March 2002, and at 1,991 tonnes as of April 2002. ICR figures released stated that 1,929 tonnes of meat were made available for auction later that year. It appears that all of the meat was included via a facility (or facilities) in Nagasaki.

2003: JARPA returned to port in the Shikoku island prefecture of Kochi this year, however the Ministry's survey seems to not include facilities from this region. Where the meat was actually stored after being off-loaded is not certain, but the Ministry figures note an increase in stock from 226 tonnes to 1,007 tonnes in the Osaka region between the months of March and April for this year. The ICR figures however put the volume of meat released at 1,841.1 tonnes. Osaka is not far from Shikoku geographically, so my guess is that year around 1,000 tonnes of meat was stored in un-surveyed Shikoku facilities (or elsewhere), with the rest being shipped over the Seto inland sea to Osaka.

2004: JARPA seemingly returned to port in Hakodate that year, and Ministry figures note a stockpile increase from 4 tonnes to 928 in Hakodate for the relevant months. Again however the ICR figures of 1,922.8 tonnes indicate that around 1,000 tonnes of meat were stored in a facility not covered by the survey.

2005: A JARPA fleet return to the port of Yokohama is evidenced this year by Ministry figures for Yokohama stating stock levels went from 0 tonnes to 1,892 between March and April that year. ICR figures almost reconcile perfectly here, with 1,895.1 tonnes said to have been made available (only a 3.1 tonne discrepancy). Note also that this was the final year of the original JARPA programme, and that from the next year the JARPA II programme commenced.

2006: Ministry figures in March indicated a jump in volume from 80 to 1,032 tonnes in Tokyo, and then from a (as of the current time, unknown but at least very) low level to 2,553 tonnes in Kanazawa in April. The ICR figures released put the total volume of meat at 3,435.8 tonnes.

2007: Ministry figures for March indicate a jump from 707 tonnes to 2,336 tonnes in Tokyo, versus ICR figures stating 2,105.1 tonnes of meat were made available.

So what we see when looking at the data for previous years, the stockpile figures appear in some years to not illustrate the full volume of meat that available, if we are working based on the ICR figures, which are more accurate. This seems to be due to the survey not including the specific facilities where the meat is stored at those particular times.

2003 was a clear example, with the fleet returning to an area known to not be included in the Ministry's survey, whereas other years such as 2002 when the meat appeared in Nagasaki look to have the full volume of meat reflected more accurately.

In summary, the real stock volume for whale isn't reflected 100% in the figures, and due to the limited supply of whale meat being concentrated in relatively few facilities, if one such facility isn't in the survey then the Ministry figures can be misleadingly low. The important thing when using the figures to look for real trends is to make comparisons between years where it appears the meat is stored in facilities that are being surveyed - such as 2002 and 2005, 2006 (and probably 2007 as well). The other years will be reflecting less whale meat movements than was actually the case.

This year

This year, we can expect JARPA meat to probably show up in Tokyo and Kagoshima stockpile figures, as the Oriental Bluebird and Nisshin Maru which carry the whale meat will be returning to those ports respectively. Both the Tokyo and Kagoshima regions are included in the survey, so if the meat is stored in the facilities surveyed they should be reasonably accurate.



Whale meat stockpile update - January 2008

Whale stock movements at the start of 2008 were shown to have been relatively subdued when January's "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products" was released last month (PDF, MS Excel), although of note the January 2008 survey specification included a minor change, which I'll detail in a subsequent post.

Here are the basic figures for January:

January 2008 outgoing stock: 410 tonnes

Outgoing stock volume for January 2008 was much lower than in January 2007, although the level of stock available at the same time last year was higher. It seems likely that the lower outgoing volume for the month is in part due to lower level of available supply.

January 2008 incoming stock: 109 tonnes

This was the lowest level of incoming stock for any month since May 2005.

January 2008 end-of-month stockpile: 2,832 tonnes

Those readers paying close attention will recall that the December 2007 release of the statistics put the end-of-month stock volume at 3,371 tonnes, and the fluctuation due to monthly stock movements to 2,832 tonnes results in a 238 tonne discrepancy in the figures. What happened to the 238 tonnes? This is related to the change in the survey specification, which I'll write more about in the next post.

* * *

No graphs for this update. The February 2008 figures will be released next week, so I'll have the latest figures with graphs shortly thereafter.



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