Kujira versus Echizen

No, it’s not the title of the newest Godzilla spinoff, but the stars of the two recent seafood related news stories that have been making waves in Japan.

I’ll start with kujira, which is the Japanese word for whale. Japan has not just continued it’s program of so-called “scientific whaling,” in which they violate the international treaty prohibiting commercial whaling while pretending they haven’t, but is actually increased their catch. This is despite the fact that almost nobody actually likes whale meat.

According to the report, the inventory was about 1,000 to 2,500 tons around 1995. It hit a low point of 673 tons in March 1998 but began to increase to reach 4,800 tons last August.
The Fisheries Agency admits the whale meat inventory is rising and has begun studying ways to expand sales in Japan.

“It is true that such a trend exists. We will study ways to expand sales channels as well as to reform sales methods,” an agency official said.

Such moves by the government to stimulate the whale meat market will probably draw more criticism from antiwhaling groups that fear more consumption in Japan.

Since 2000, the research whaling has been expanding in terms of volume and number of species. On the other hand, consumption has not increased as areas of high demand for whale meat are limited in Japan.

“Unless the consumption of whale meat increases dramatically, the stockpile of whale meat will surge,” Sakuma said.

I’m not interested in getting into the debate over whether or not commercial whaling should be allowed, but irrelevant to that argument I can say that this current policy is just absurd. While Japan has been making some progress in their battle to change the treaty banning commercial whaling, they have, in fact, signed a treaty banning commercial whaling. They are, in fact, violating that treaty while pretending not to. The fact that Japan is carrying out their whaling operations illegally only makes it easier for opponents of whaling to continue to attack them by adding the illegality of it to the moral/environmental argument, in contrast to Noraway, who carries out fully legal commercial whaling by virtue of having never signed the anti-whaling treaty.

Echizen (actually echizen kurage) are a species of massive (200kg) but benign (as in, they aren’t the stinging kind) jellyfish that have recently been multiplying like crazy in Chinese and Korean waters, and drifting towards Japan in plague-like proportions. There are so many of these gigantic blobs floating around the Sea of Japan that it has actually become impossible for fisherman to put out their nets without catching some, sometimes to the point where catching actual fish becomes almost impossible.

South Korean fishermen have been suffering similar woes, but China, where giant jellyfish are a delicacy often served dried and dressed with sesame oil, does not seem to have registered the outbreak as a major problem, Japanese officials said.

Seaside communities in Japan have tried to capitalize on the menace by developing novel jellyfish dishes from tofu to ice cream, but for some reason the recipes have failed to take off.

Participants at Thursday’s conference said they had experimented with feeding the jellyfish to farmed crabs and using them as fertilizer.

What we have here are, basically, are two different sources of sea-borne protein, and neither one is even remotely popular or has much of a market. One form of protein is for some reason being pursued with vigor despite the fact that doing so leads to both international controversy and such a massive excess of the stuff that it ends up just rotting (or at least staying frozen) in warehouses.

The second form of protein is also in no particular demand as a food source, but it is so abundant that it is literally washing up on the shores of Japan and clogging the nets of fishermen.

Japan’s commercial whaling is a diplomatic and economic failure, and all the resources being spent by the government in supporting it are a complete and utter waste, serving no purpose except to satisfy a nostalgic fantasy of older people who remember eating whale meat in the school lunches in the years after the Second World War when far more desirable meats like pork or beef were difficult to come by.

The sea is so thick with echizen jellyfish that catching some is unavoidable, and therefore figuring out how to exploit them as a resource is an economic necessity in areas where the fishing industry is disrupted. From a purely market based standpoint, an increase in the catch of unwanted whales is absurd, and the slow pace of developing echizen into a positive resource is wasteful in another way.

As stocks of wild fish are becoming depleted in some areas, the farming of fish is becoming steadily more popular. But to support fish grown in farms, they still have to send out trawlers to catch huge hauls of smaller fish species to use as feed, so even though they aren’t catching as many, let’s say salmon or tuna, they may still be depleting the species that those fish survive on in the wild. Perhaps the echizen, which naturally are more abundant than ever, could be become a primary source of protein for farmed seafood, and by extension, the humans who eat them.

20 thoughts on “Kujira versus Echizen”

  1. Great post. This issue has gotten some media attention also in the Japanese press, such as Mainichi.

    Junko Sakuma’s research is great. It proves once and for all that Japan’s resarch is not about science. Why else would the government official say “We will study ways to expand sales channels as well as to reform sales methods”?

  2. To them, business IS science! I guess.

    I ate a donut for breakfast that had a fishy aftertaste. Maybe it contained some echizen-derived preservative…

    As for feeding echizen to farmed fish, maybe they could use it as a filler in some kind of soylent-green style sausage that contained just enough of their natural prey to make it palatable.

    Anyway, that is just speculation. Ack.

  3. What?!? How DARE you criticize Japan for ANYTHING they do. Don’t you know Japan is the perfect nation?!? DON’T YOU?!?

    Okay, okay…sarcasm aside, wonderful post!

  4. If they calmly keep repeating over and over again, “it’s for research, it’s for research,” then the world will accept the claims of the pro-whaling crowd in Japan. If they seem well-reasoned in the face of the yelling and screaming of their emotional opponents, they will be seen as the ones who are rational and therefore in the right.

    Mutant Frog, anything to add about South Korea’s renascent whaling industry?

  5. I’m afraid all I know about whale meat in South Korea is that it’s possible to buy it there. I think I’ve heard that they have their own fake scientific whaling program, or do they just buy meat from whales caught by Japanese hunting ships?

    Well, I have read this piece about eating whale in Pusan

    The kindly ajemon bowed and made her way to the back only to return moments later with a large plastic bucket. She dumped the contents of the bucket onto a huge cutting board and whittled the huge chunks of fish in to bite sized pieces and arranged them neatly onto a large plate. And man, it was the real deal. It wasn’t a “whale-like” meat, it was huge slices of a newly dead whale. And, if you’re keeping track, she never bothered to cook the whale meat, she just cut it and put it on a plate. Humans are different from animals because they cook their meat before they eat it, but I guess this was another one of those strange loopholes taking shape. After all, maybe she “accidentally” forgot to cook it.

    And, let me tell you, it tasted like ass. It tasted like bone marrow sucked from the femur of my first born son. It tasted like raw pork marinated in pee. It was hideously wrong. She didn’t even take the skin off. Fish skin is normally scaly, but this was oily and rubbery with a bitter and disgusting aftertaste that will stay with me perhaps longer than the horror of this shameful and disturbing ordeal.
    We also had a side of cucumbers which were delicious.

    If you’ve got any good articles about whaling in Korea, please pass them along.

  6. It’s not surprising at all how the people who foam at the mouth with glee the most whenever there is news which criticizes or denigrates Japan come from a country where they skin and torch dogs alive before eating them thinking that it raises the meat’s aphrodisiacal qualities.

    Oh, and these same people claim how terrible it is that Japanese eat whales calling it a crime against animal rights.

    The hypocrisy stinks as bad as a jug of leftover kimchi (hint hint) from the Yi dynasty.

    Oh, but don’t you know? The poop in uri nara never stinks as bad as it does in Japan or America. And even if it does, it is because America and Japan made it that way.

    How’s that for sarcasm?

  7. Chonko, I think you are confused. Korea is not criticizing Japan’s whaling industry, and even engages in the same (or similar) practices. Your criticism of Korean hypocrisy seems rather bizarre when the target does not, in this case, even exist.

  8. Mutantfrog,

    You must be either blind or selectively prejudiced. So many of the “We Koreans always are better than Japan” crowd here are laughingly claiming that they are “disgusted” over whaling. Really funny…next thing you know, they will be claim to be the champion of animal rights. What a joke.

    I wonder what Bridget Bardot would say at these laughable remarks at Koreans. Oh, but wait…skinning dogs alive and beating them to death is perfectly fine….but whaling! (gasp!) A crime against all animals!

    As they say, hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Should be the national motto of Korea.:)

  9. Just followed the links over here:

    > they have, in fact, signed a treaty banning commercial whaling.

    This is not true at all.

    The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling does not ban commercial whaling – it expressly acknowledges the legitimacy of it, and seeks to regulate it to ensure the conservation of whale stocks and the development of the whaling industry which is dependent on those stocks being healthy.

  10. Well ok, technically the treaty itself doesn’t ban whaling exactly, but it does bind the signatories to agree to the regulations established by the commission right? As I understand it they voted to cease all commercial whaling activities until some unspecified future time when it would be ecologically prudent to resume such activities.

    But the fact is that Japan IS currently engaged in commercial whaling, despite having agreed to what is effectively a ban on the activity. I will repeat my question: If Japan wants to continue whaling, why not just quit the treaty? Or, if they believe that the treaty and regulatory commission is legitimate, as they imply through their lobbying activities, why do they not obey its regulations while proceeding with their attempts to pass a resolution re-authorizing commercial whaling?

  11. No, signatory nations are allowed to lodge reservations with respect to any decisions that the IWC makes that they don’t like. In the case of the whaling nations, they obviously don’t like attempts to place blanket bans on whaling, because that goes against the object and purpose of the convention that they signed. The other option, besides lodging a reservation is to quite the organization altogether, like Canada, and just regulate their own whaling activity as a sovereign nation.

    I think the reason why Japan doesn’t quit the IWC is because they are serious about allowing for the international community to cooperate on the issue. After all, if anyone should quit the treaty it’s those nations who want to ban whaling – that sort of position is inconsistent with the agreement that they signed, and they have no honour by remaining signatory in those circumstances.

    Finally, whale meat consumption in Japan has increased significantly in recent years, despite what has been said by anti-whaling activists such as Junko Sakuma. Her interpretation of the stockpile figures is devious – she’s complaining about increases in the average amount of whale meat in stock over a series of years. This is not a useful analysis, as the reason for the average increase in stock is more due to the increases in supply of whale meat (from scientific whaling, as well as from by-catch and strandings) since the turn of the century.

    Meanwhile, the outgoing stock volumes have increased year by year, following on from the increases in supply. If you want to read my analyses, take a look at my Website link.
    2004 outgoing stock volume: about 5,000 tonnes
    2005 outgoing stock volume: about 6,000 tonnes
    2006 outgoing stock volume: about 8,000 tonnes

    Incoming stock volume totaled about 6,000 tonnes in both 2004 and 2005, but jumped to just under 9,000 tonnes in 2006 due to the expansion of the JARPA research whaling programme.

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