Annual whalemeat sales start in Japan
TOKYO - Nearly two thousand tonnes of whale meat went on sale across Japan yesterday in an annual event guaranteed to anger conservationists.
Proceeds, expected to be some 3.8 billion yen ( million), will be used to finance more hunts, which Japan calls \"research\" whaling but activists decry as commercial whaling in disguise.
\"We do this to help pay for our survey whaling for the next season,\" said Takumi Ikeshima, a spokesman at the Institute for Cetacean Research in Tokyo.
The meat is from 440 minke whales killed in the Antarctic during the hunting season that ended in March.
Japan stopped commercial whaling in 1986 in line with a moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but began its research whaling the next year. Most of the meat ends up on store shelves and restaurant tables.
Tokyo agrees with protecting endangered species, but argues that others, such as minkes, are numerous and not in danger.
Japan has made numerous attempts, all futile, to reinstate commercial whaling, most recently at the May meeting of the IWC in the southwestern Japanese city of Shimonoseki.
Whale was an important protein source for an impoverished Japan after World War Two, but has become an expensive, gourmet food that rarely appears on family dinner tables and can usually be eaten in just a handful of speciality restaurants.
DEFLATIONARY DAYS, PRICE CUTS
In response to complaints from consumers who say the high cost is turning them away, Ikeshima said the Institute had decided this year to cut the price of red whale meat, a cherished delicacy that is eaten raw or grilled as steaks.
It has a dark, gamey taste somewhat like beef, but richer.
\"Given current deflationary trends in Japan, whale has come to be really expensive,\" he said, noting that even high quality tuna - an popular sushi ingredient - costs less.
\"We sell it wholesale, as cheaply as possible, but middlemen and restaurants add still more to the price, making it quite expensive by the time it reaches your mouth,\" he said.
The red meat is priced at 2,600 yen () a kilogram (2.2 lbs), down from 2,980 yen last year, a drop of 12.8 percent. The price of one kg of blubber is unchanged at 1,050 yen.
Some 270 tonnes of the 1,929 tonnes of whale meat will be made available around Japan for local use, such as school lunches, in order to keep alive the whale-eating tradition among young people more used to Western food.
\"We want children to learn what the flavour of whale is like,\" Ikeshima said. \"If they don\'t eat it young, they won\'t understand how good it is.\"
Of the remaining amount nearly 600 tonnes will be sold in wholesale markets as meat and the rest, some 1000 tonnes of whale parts such as internal organs and skin, will be sold for canning or other processing.
Japanese pride themselves on using every part of the whale. Skin is salted, tongue is sliced wafer thin and may be grilled, and fattier bits are made into whale bacon.
There is even the whaleburger, invented by a Shimonoseki entrepreneur to tempt the palates of young people.
Despite all these efforts, whale sales flagged last year.
\"It took quite a while to sell it all, and things did not run smoothly,\" Ikeshima said, adding that perhaps the high price was to blame. \"This year, though, I expect it all to sell by the end of August.\"
Japan and Norway are currently holding talks in Oslo on resuming imports of Norwegian whale products. While some hurdles remain, Norway said this week it was optimistic trade would begin eventually.
Story by Elaine Lies
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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