Whale Meat -rapidly increasing stocks and a huge potential stock Excluded Iceland's Fin Whale in the Japanese National Survey

This article is kindly translated in English by Japan Wildlife Conservation Society.
Thanks to Ms. Chikako Yamasaki and Mr. Simon Varnam who volunteered to translate.

Stocks reach new peak at the end of October

This graph shows the monthly whale meat stocks from 1997 to October 2010 when stocks reached 5,525 tons, the largest since 1990. But there is more to this than meets the eye. The actual amount of unsold meat may be higher than these figures for 2010 seem to show. Let's take a look at the background by comparing stock figures with production figures.

In 2006, the production of whale meat reached a peak at 5,333.8 tons (5,486.5 tons, if we include coastal whaling). At 1,542 tons more than the previous year's take, it was natural for stocks to increase, a fact which drew attention to the question of how the stock would fall this year, an indication of the demand for whale meat in Japan.

In 2010, production was the lowest since 2004 at 3,620.4 tons (3,802.7 tons with CW), 826 tons less than the previous year. However stocks were the highest for 20 years.

As the stock assessment covers only refrigerated warehouses above a certain size, it is possible for stock to be moved from small sites not covered to those covered, causing an apparent but unreal increase. We cannot simply say the stock has increased.

Hidden stocks?
1 The number of the refrigeration facilities covered has decreased.

The figures from the survey do not give the whole picture of this (2010) year's stocks. The number of refrigeration facilities covered has been greatly reduced since January 2010.

The graph is based on the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) "Monthly Statistics, Major Marine Products" which records the marine product stocks in the major refrigeration facilities in Japan.

In January 2010, management of the survey changed from MAFF to the Fisheries Agency, while the number of the facilities surveyed was reduced by almost a quarter, from 651 to 500. The chain of continuous data has been broken. However, in one month, December 2009, both authorities assembled their own statistics. In the graph, the dashed line shows revised quantities based on both surveys. The number of facilities covered decreased by 23% while whale meat stocks decreased by 3.9%. It is strange that while the number of facilities covered decreased so much, the total stocks decreased so little. Perhaps the excluded 151 facilities held little whale meat, in which case they would hardly affect the survey. However, had the number of surveyed facilities remained the same at 651, the stock in August 2010 should have exceeded 6,000. To put it another way, the whale meat held at the 150 omitted facilities may accurately be called "hidden stock".

Hidden stocks?
2 Icelandic whale exports

This year there is another potential hidden stock: Icelandic finwhale.

fin meat sakuma Icelandic fin whale meat at retail store in Japan

According to Icelandic trades statistics, about 760 tons of frozen finwhale meat had been exported to Japan as of October 2010. On the other hand, Japanese figures show that Japan imported only 160 tons. Where is the other 600 tons? There are three possibilities:

1. Though officially exported it is still held in Iceland's bonded warehouse.

2. It is still en route and hasn't arrived in Japan, or has been temporarily offloaded in a third country.

3. It is waiting for custom clearance in a Japanese bonded warehouse.

These are the second "hidden stock", not included in the trade statistics.

It is expensive to keep the stock in bonded warehouses. Japanese traders would surely want to clear Customs and sell it as soon as possible, but for some unknown reason the import procedure is delayed.

The news of the import of Icelandic whale meat has been reported only by Kyodo News Service but the meat is already available in the Japanese market. Search the internet for the Japanese words for "Icelandic" AND "Fin whale" (アイスランド産 AND ナガスクジラ), and you can find numerous mail order outlets.

Failure to stimulate latent demand in the Japanese market

A severe interpretation of the situation suggests that changing the number of facilities covered in the statistics and delaying custom clearance are deliberate subterfuges to reduce the apparent size of whale meat stocks.

At the very least, the government's creation of a situation where the continuity of data is lost creates distrust.

Though the change was promoted as a cost-saving device its true effect is to conceal data, an obstacle to freedom of information, and a form of censorship.

Graph Title: Whale meat stocks

fig01j 2011jan05

[bar graph]
red line: monthly totals
blue dashed line: estimated totals
green: volume from JARPA (Antarctic Research Whaling)
blue: volume from JARPN (NW Pacific Research Whaling)
Source: MAFF (~Dec 2010) /Fisheries Agency (Jan 2011~) "Monthly Statistics for Major Marine Products", ICR Annual report, press releases, etc., and press sources.
Produced by Junko Sakuma 2011/12/13

"Frozen Marine Products Statistics" (in major domestic facilities)

Until 2009, the Japanese government designated 41 areas as "production areas" and 14 as "consumption areas" and recorded the stocks of large scale refrigeration facilities there. The survey was estimated to cover 40% of the whole stocks. In 2008 the survey covered 670 facilities and dropped to 651 in 2009. In 2010 the number was further reduced to 500. Based on these data, I compared the 2009 data with that from 2010 and calculated the ratio of the old figures to those of the new (for whale meat) as 100 : 96.1. The estimates for the real 2010 figures were calculated using the ratio. These are shown as a dashed line. The estimated amount as of October is 5,750 tons. This is the largest since 1990.

N.B. The Japan Association of Refrigerated Warehouses has 3,378 registered refrigeration facilities, 2,676 of which are capable of storage below minus 20˚ Celsius.