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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 inventory update - January 2009

Here's your update on whale meat inventories with the latest figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for January 2009.

Just the basics for starters, and I'll try to catch up with graphs later when time presents itself, but there isn't much to illustrate with only figures for the first month of the year anyway.

January 2009 outgoing stock: 391 tons

Another slow month in the shipments figure, 391 tons recorded as leaving storage. 391 tons is 73% of the volume recorded for the same month in 2008.

A couple of possible factors influencing the low shipment volume spring to mind:

1) The effect of the economic slump that's going on, of course globally but particularly Japan being an export-dependent nation has been hit hard, as it's Yen currency has appreciated substantially over the past several months and demand from abroad has dropped due to problems overseas. With whale being a rare and rather expensive option for consumers, the tough economic times may be seeing whale consumers opt for cheaper options.

2) Overall inventory for whale is (as of January) at relatively low levels compared with recent years, and substantial additional product is not likely to be available until the JARPA II by-product goes on sale in summer. Dealers may be pacing their sales so as to ensure supply is available until that time. Additionally in January, uncertainty remains about the level of additional product to become available as a result of the JARPA II programme, due to further (not to mention exceedingly dangerous) harassment from the sheep of Paul Watson's anti-whaling personality cult group, "Sea Shepherd".

January 2009 incoming stock: 262 tons

A relatively large month for incoming stock however, 262 tons being 218% of the corresponding January 2008 figure.

January 2009 end-of-month inventories: 2,967 tons

Overall, inventories fell below 3,000 tons as of the end of January, a 4% decrease on the end of the previous month, and 5% lower than at the same time a year earlier.

Whale is in relatively short supply.

January 2009 top inventory regions

The table below shows the movements in whale inventory in the leading inventory regions.

Stockpile size at
month end
Stockpile size at
previous month end
Tokyo city wards1,3231,451-128

Tokyo remains firmly in the number 1 spot, showing the largest decrease, whereas 2nd place Ishinomaki recorded an increase, as well as the top consumption region of Nagasaki. Funabashi inventories again mysteriously remain largely static. At the bottom end of the table, Kawasaki drops out of the top 7 (decreasing at least 11 tons to come in below new 7th place Hakodate).

That's your update for January 2009 figures

* * *

The February 2009 figures are due for release on the 10th of April at 11:00AM

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More news from Japan, this time from Yokohama, in Kanagawa prefecture just south of Tokyo. This story again from Tokyo Shimbun.

Bring back vigor to "Whale Row"
Restaurants in Noge district, Yokohama city aim to create a speciality with new menu development
This is how the headline from the article dated 2009/02/05 reads.
In Noge district of Yokohama city's Naka ward, there is an area lined with restaurants for common people, and there the restaurants are cooperating together in an effort to create a guide map and new menu items. Noge became lively after the end of WWII when a "Whale Row" of restaurants serving whale meat formed there. The restaurant operators there today are looking to liven up the area once more with whale.
The Whale Row was located in the vicinity of Sakura River New Road, in front of the JR rail station of Sakuragicho. The New Road was made by filling in the river there. In those days, the riverside was packed with restaurants selling whale cutlets and so forth, and the air was thick with the smell of cooking whale meat. Supposedly it was packed with people as at that time of food shortages whale was a precious source of protein. But with the filling in of the river, the "row" disappeared, and the increase in diversity of food, along with the banning of commercial whaling for resource conservation [says the article], shops dealing in whale dwindled.
The arrival of the Black Ships [of Commodore Perry] led to the opening of Yokohama port 150 years ago in June, and this event is regarded as resulting in the USA choosing to establish Japan as it's base for reprovisioning it's whaling vessels. With that historical background, last year 9 shops developed speciality menus such as gyoza and Japanese style curry using whale meat. In a taste testing event these items were popular, and as such the "Noge Restaurant Association" decided to expand the menus through the whole area.
According to the plan, a "Noge whale map" illustrating all the restaurants in the area with whale cuisine will be produced by April. With whale meat limited in distribution volume, the association aims to purchase whale meat on behalf of all shops, so as to ensure whale is available at cheap prices with stable supply.
On January 30, a whale meat taste testing event and cooking lecture were held. The article quotes a Mitsuo Ono (69) who runs a sushi restaurant as saying, "I think I'll use the red meat for nigiri (hand-rolled sushi) at my shop". The head of the association, Masanobu Tai (53) is quoted saying "There are people who are against whaling, but whale cuisine is Japan's precious food culture. I hope that we'll be having people say 'Let's go to Noge, and eat whale'".
Noge has a web page with more information about the plan and the recent cooking event (in Japanese) at the link below:


It sounds like some port opening commemoration events will be held from April, which is why they are targeting April for the completion of the map.

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USA on Iceland's increased whaling quotas

I haven't been keeping up with posts regarding movements in Iceland as much as I would like, but suffice it to say that this year it's been decided that Iceland's whalers will be able to catch up to 150 fin whales and 100 minke whales.

Most of this is expected to be exported, to Japan.

But the USA is not happy about it.
U.S. Opposes Iceland's Decision To Establish Large Commercial Whaling Quota
Bureau of Public Affairs
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 27, 2009

The United States strongly opposes the Government of Iceland’s announcement on February 18, 2009, of its decision to uphold the former Government’s issuance of a quota for 150 fin and 100 minke whales to be harvested in Icelandic waters. We are deeply concerned that stocks of fin and minke whales are not adequate to support this harvest. We also believe this action will undermine the ongoing “future of the International Whaling Commission” efforts, of which Iceland is a participant. We call upon the Government of Iceland to rescind this decision and to focus on the long-term conservation of whale stocks, rather than on the short-term interests of its whaling industry.
The title of the press release itself is quite objectionable. 150 in whales and 100 minke whales is hardly a "large commercial whaling quota". It certainly is a "commercial whaling quota", but there's nothing especially large about it. Indeed the minke quota probably would have been bigger had Iceland not exercised a high level of caution with respect to it's local minke whale stocks.

Putting it into perspective, Iceland's commercial fin whale and minke quotas are both not even 3 times the US's "aboriginal subsistence whaling quota" for bowhead whales (up to 67 a year). Indeed, Greenland's minke whale quota (termed "aboriginal subsistence", although the Greenlanders don't like this), which is the highest of all such quotas, is up to 200 minkes a year. Iceland is to take fewer fin whales and fewer minke whales than this.

Ultimately what matters is not vague, undefined terms such as "small" and "large", but what is sustainable. And sustainability is the basis for the advice upon which the former Iceland government issued the quota.

Next, the US says that it's concerned about the status of fin and minke whale stocks and their capacity to sustain these harvests - both smaller than the largest of "aboriginal subsistence whaling quotas", and set in accordance with advice on sustainability. So, it seems, the USA does not think much of the advice given by Iceland's scientists (or alternatively just doesn't like sustainable whaling?). However, even the IWC's estimate of abundance for fin whales in the North Atlantic is 30,000. Iceland's annual quota of 150 represents just 0.5% of this, which is a lower percentage than we see in the USA's quota of 67 bowheads out of 10,500. Just 0.5% is quite conservative, so even in the case of multiple stocks, it seems highly likely to be sustainable. The IWC's minke abundance estimate in the North Atlantic is larger again.

If the USA is genuinely concerned about the effect of Iceland's whaling on whale stocks, it would be in the USA's interests to cooperate with Iceland and others in the spirit of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, by working to establish safe catch limits for whale stocks where applicable. Indeed, the IWC's Scientific Committee is in the process of developing an RMP Implementation for fin whales and reviewing the existing implementation for minke whales in the North Atlantic (both due for completion this year prior to the IWC meeting), which could be the basis for this. That the USA instead would intimate that it is Iceland that is undermining the "future of the IWC" efforts illustrates that the USA isn't interested an "future IWC" that conducts it's business in accordance with it's mandate.

The USA should be reviewing it own out-dated policies before criticising others. Time for "Change"?

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Norwegian whale imports approved

Breaking news:

Norway's whale meat approved as well, first time in 20 years

That's the headline at Tokyo Shimbun.

The Kyodo News article says that the Japanese government approved an import of 5.6 tons of whale meat from Norway at the beginning of February, and this was acknowledged by authorities in both countries.

The article notes that it was just last year in September that 66.6 tons of whale meat from Iceland was approved, and that it appears that the Japanese government is looking to support the only two nations conducting commercial whaling on the consumption front.

Additionally the article suggests that this could lead Europe, the USA and Australia to step up their criticisms of Japan at the IWC's inter-plenary meeting that will start in Rome from March 9.

The Norwegian whale meeting is reported to have arrived at Nagoya's port last year in June, leading related agencies and ministries to consider how it be handled. A domestic importer officially submitted an import request to the Fisheries Agency this year at the end of January, and the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry approved this on February 6. This is the first whale meat import since 1988.

Of the 5.6 tons, the portion for eating raw was found to be in excess of bacteria regulations during inspections carried out after the import approval was granted, and so it was not accepted, however the portion for use in cooking is expected to pass through customs shortly so long as it has no problems on the food safety front.

Regarding the fact that the import took 8 months to complete from the time of arrival until the time of approval, the Fisheries Agencies Far Seas Fisheries division explained that the procedural matters went slowly because it's the first import in a long time.

* * *

The Japan Times is running an English version of the story from the same source (Kyodo) but with some differences to the Japanese version.
The Norwegian meat arrived at Nagoya port last June, but the Fisheries Agency waited until late January to file for permission to import it.
The Japanese version is explicit that the import request came from a domestic importer, so for that and other reasons it seems like the English version is wrong to report that it was the Fisheries Agency requesting import permission. Indeed, as a part of the government it would make no sense if the Fisheries Agency were requesting import permission.

But the English version has more details regarding the delays:

"There is some sensitivity because it's whale meat," a Fisheries Agency official said when asked why it took eight months to get the OK after the meat arrived.

Another reason was the paperwork, the official said. It's been awhile since the agency has had to deal with whale meat from Norway, the official explained.

Some observers suspect the delay reflects caution on the part of the government, which is concerned that the decision could stoke rebuke from antiwhaling nations.

* * *

At any rate, this is very promising news for the Norwegian whale meat exporters and whalers alike, not to mention whale meat consumers in Japan, although from the article it seems clear there are still some outstanding issues surrounding food safety and timely completion of procedures. Yet one can't help but wonder if the procedural delay wasn't at least a contributing factor to the problems with the meat for raw consumption.

As for the anti-whaling nations, we don't hear India complaining when Australia exports hundreds of thousands of tons of beef to Japan each year, and likewise anti-whaling nations have no right to complain about legal bilateral trade between whale meat producing nations and Japan. Nor should Japan feel obliged to pay undue attention if such complaints are forthcoming, but of course, Japan will be Japan.

Nonetheless, the timing here is fortunate. Indeed the anti-whaling nations should be in no two minds that whaling nations are going to continue to be whaling nations, despite what the commercial anti-whaling industry might say to the contrary and regardless of what goes on at the IWC. The IWC has the mandate of conserving whale stocks and regulating whaling, but not regulating trade in whale products.

With respect to the IWC, the anti-whaling nations are in a position only to decide whether they want to play an active, constructive role in the management of whaling. This is where their thoughts ought to be focused, not on trade related matters that are none of their business.

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Cross a whale with an eel and you get?

There's a few restaurants along side the Yamanote line on the north west side of Shinjuku station that serve whale amongst there other offerings. I digitized one of the advertisements (seen on 2009/2/22) as below.

The Japanese text labels the product in the center as "kujira sashi", so there's no doubt what it's supposed to be, but the misspelling as "WHEEL" put a smile on my face.

This meat (683 yen) doesn't look too good to me though (nor do the grubby restaurants there beside the train tracks) so I don't plan on visiting this place. You can't go wrong over the other side of the tracks at Akanedoki or Taruichi in Kabukicho, just a couple of minutes from there.

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Ishinomaki reaction to IWC Future proposal draft

As with the western media, the IWC Future draft rose some eyebrows in Japan as well.

Yomiuri newspapers published editorials (offline now) welcoming the plan to an extent, at least so far as urging Japan to continue to with the negotiations for a compromise.

On the other hand, one Fisheries newspaper put together a detailed article cautioning strongly against it, ultimately urging Japan to get back to the basics of resource management based on compliance and science, and restore whale resource management functions.

Fortunately there was also media coverage of some of those who would be most directly effected by any compromise proposal. Up in north-eastern Honshu, the Sanriku Kahoku news paper ran a story at the beginning of February covering the thoughts of people related to coastal whaling in the region.
Report accepting coastal whaling released (2009.02.04)
IWC Small Working Group
Continued whaling not guaranteed - "Frankly not pleased" Katsushika, Ishinomaki
The article reports that the chair of the IWC's SWG, De Soto, released his report which suggests allowing coastal whaling that Japan has been requesting in exchange for Japan scaling back its special permit whaling in the Antarctic. It noted that this is a compromise plan to address the conflict between whaling and anti-whaling nations, however at the whaling town in Ishinomaki city's Katsushika area:
... the report's contents have been taken in with complicated feelings. "We're not able to throw both arms up in the air in delight about this".
The article mentions that the report notes that for 5 years, 4 Japanese whaling towns including the one in Katsushika would be permitted to take an as yet unspecified number of minke whales, under conditions such as the whaling involving day trips with less than 5 vessels engaged.
As for beyond the next 5 years, the report described two options of banning whaling or continuing it.
On the other hand, as for Antarctic special permit whaling, two plans were described including the gradual cessation of minke whale catches and the total ban of fin whale catches.

Keiichi Endo, the 51 year old president of Ishinomaki's "Ayukawa Hogei (Whaling)" company which was established last year in February, said "At the current time I can't say that I agree with the report. Will Japan be able to accept the total banning of research whaling in the Antarctic? The report doesn't guarantee research will be continued from the 6th year onwards", he points out.

Mayor of Ishinomaki city, Kimio Doi, expressed a cautious position, saying "I can't comment at this stage. I'll be following developments in the debate at the IWC".

Mayor Doi had attended the June 2007 meeting of the IWC in Anchorage. The next month in July Ishinomaki city held the first national whale forum, where the "Ishinomaki declaration" was adopted, requesting Japan to unilaterally allow a resumption of small-type coastal whaling.

To that extent, the region welcomes the resumption of coastal whaling, however there is dissatisfaction as well. "Since the 1988 commercial whaling moratorium, there has been no progress at the IWC towards resuming whaling."
In another article at the similarly named Kahoku news site (seems to be offline now, but the title was "「期待せず」「議論見守る」沿岸捕鯨再開IWC報告書"), both were quoted again.
Keiichi Endo, president of "Ayukawa Hogei" based in Ayukawa port that owns two of the small-type coastal whaling vessels rejected the report, saying "I can't expect anything from it". He expressed concern that on top of either scaling back research whaling or stopping it in 5 years, from the 6th year onwards there was still the possibility of small-type coastal whaling being banned as well.

"I do agree with reducing the number of whales caught in research whaling and increasing the quota for small-type coastal whaling, but that's not to say I'm for reducing research whaling to zero. Continuing both is best", he asserts.
Mayor Doi is quoted here again saying similar things.

* * *

It doesn't bode well for the IWC discussions if even those in Japan such as Mr. Endo, who would possibly gain most from a compromise package, are not happy with it.

If free time eventuates I'd like to introduce the Fisheries newspaper article mentioned above, in a future post, but perhaps what develops in March will preclude my motivation to do this - let's see.

* * *

So what are the pictures included in this blog? On the weekend after this report was released by the IWC, I was on the snowy slopes of Mt. Zao bordering between Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures, and coincidentally a friend of mine was also in Sendai, Miyagi's capital at the same time. Originally from Hokkaido where they often eat whale at New Year's, she's one of a "whale eating" circle we started up a few years back.

Anyway, she spotted whale on the menu at a Sendai izakaya restaurant (Kochira Marutoku Gyogyobu) and sent me the pics and shop location.

They have a chain of restaurants centred in Miyagi, but they also have restaurants in Yamagata, Akita and Morioka (main cities of surrounding prefectures) as well.

On the web (Japanese)

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