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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



IWC 60 round up - IWC put on life support

Well it wrapped up just under a month ago, but IWC 60 didn't turn out to be quite as big a wipe out as it could have been.

The Chair (Bill Hogarth of the USA) managed to get an agreement from commissioners to play nicely before the main proceedings commenced, as well as what was essentially an agreement to talk, but do nothing about controversial issues at IWC 60. Instead these (various standard agenda items plus a host of others) were put aside for discussion at yet another intersessional meeting amongst a somewhat smaller group of members, which will then report back to the IWC next year with a proposed "package" of items for consideration at IWC 61. Read all about these details here.

Of note was that late in the meeting a vote was called regarding Greenland's request to be able to hunt 10 humpback whales. The anti-whalers didn't like it, and even when Greenland proposed exchanging a part of it's existing quota for the humpback quota it was still rejected (although a few, such as Switzerland apparently saw enough reason to change their mind).

Also, in the Scientific Committee still no new abundance estimates for Antarctic minke whales could be agreed, although progress appears to have been made on the new methods for this.

But as for the fundamental problem at the IWC, there still seems to be little interest from the anti-whalers in compromising on their general opposition to whaling (despite the convention being for the regulation of it), so it's very hard to see how an eventual package produced for consideration at IWC 61 could be mutually acceptable to 3/4s of members. As such, this seems to be a "life-support" measure for the IWC. It's still early days I suppose, but there is certainly no suggestion in the media of the western nations that the fundamental opposition to the notion of dealing with whales in a similar manner to other marine wildlife is about to be relaxed or even contemplated.

The situation at the IWC has seen the pro-sustainable use camp start talking amongst themselves about a "safety net" for the management of whaling, in the event that the IWC package process does turn out to be a failure. This is likely to become a more and more prominent topic in coming times. This movement has been mentioned by Japanese government representatives in several places - press conferences held at the IWC meeting itself, after the IWC meeting, and also noted on the Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries home page in their release about the result of the meeting. The Jiji news agency also ran a news piece on it at the time of the meeting. Little, if anything, has been said of this in the western media that I can see.

The IWC's press releases about the meeting can be found here.

From the pro-sustainable use side, here are some links of interest:

1) Japanese government
Joji Morishita press conference (in English) at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on July 2. He talks about Japan's position for the meeting, what happened, what Japan thinks about it, and then answers some questions from journalists. That part is a bit pointless to watch as most of the media didn't have anything interesting to ask.

2) From the High North Alliance
IWC Survival Kit and Hot Issues
The real Future of the IWC
High North Alliance - address to the International Whaling Commission
Open letter from KNAPK to Greenland Cabinet

3) From the IWMC
IWMC Conservation Tribune, 23 June 2008
IWMC Conservation Tribune, 24 June 2008
IWMC Conservation Tribune, 25 June 2008
IWMC Conservation Tribune, 27 June 2008
IWMC Conservation Tribune, Press Release

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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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2008 JARPA II by-product sale

The ICR released details about the upcoming sale of the JARPA II research by-product whale meat last week, bringing some clarity to the situation with the stockpile and the recent ministry statistics released for April 2008.

The ICR press release states that 327.9 tons of whale meat from JARPA has been allocated for "public purposes" this year (this includes the portion set aside for use in school lunches, etc). Last year 344.8 tons were allocated for this purpose, so the amount available in 2008 drops by 5%.

The rest of the by-product, 1654.6 tons, is destined to be disposed of on the market between July 7 and August 9, in wholesale markets around the nation.

So, a total of 1982.5 tons of whale meat resulted from JARPA II this year.

If we reconcile this back against the April 2008 stockpile figures released early last month, we see that 2,021 tons of whale meat were reported as entering whale meat stockpiles for the month. Most of this evidently entered a facility or facilities in Tokyo, with possibly a small portion in Kawasaki, and perhaps a another small portion not coming under the survey coverage. But from the numbers it appears the survey reflects the new available stock pretty well, almost all of the April incoming stock volume is obviously accounted for by the JARPA by-product influx.

Note, however, that as this new stock isn't on sale until July 7, the stockpile figures for May and June will include up to 1982.5 tons of whale meat that isn't actually available for sale. The actual available amount of whale meat in the stockpile as of the end of April was the April 2008 end-of-month stockpile figure (3,640 tons) less approximately the total by-product (1982.5 tons), hence a maximum 1657.5 tons of the whale meat represented in these figures was available for consumption as of the end of April. With more than two months before the start of the sale of the JARPA by-product, clearly stocks are relatively low at the present time.

Also noted in the ICR press release were decisions regarding the pricing of various types of meat. Overall, prices are to be on average 6.1% higher than the meat that sold after last year's JARPN cruise. The ICR notes the increasing costs of fuel as being a factor behind the increase.

However, related articles (here and here) from the Sankei newspaper suggest that the price increases were also influenced by the lower volume of product available due to the obstruction of the JARPA cruise by Sea Shepherd. The Sankei says that red meat prices will be raised by an average of 70 yen per kilogram to 2,060 yen, high grade Unesu meat will go up 250 yen to 4,000, but some other types of cuts will actually be lowered in price as well.

The Asahi newspaper also reported on the matter, suggesting that the ICR has a short fall in funds, and additional support for the ICR is hoped to be provided by the OFCF, although the article doesn't mention specifics.

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