KESEN-NUMA CITY, JAPAN – It’s 5am on the the north eastern tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, and 75 tons of dead shark is being meticulously arranged into a neat grid of tidy piles, of twenty sharks per pile.
If you thought shark finning was exclusively a Chinese problem, think again. Welcome to Kesen-numa City, Japan’s shark fin capital.
Here, six days a week, small teams of Japanese workers go about the hushed business of industrial shark-finning.
By 6.30am, with piles arranged, the sharks are disemboweled first. Hearts are ripped efficiently from bodies by men wearing brightly coloured rubber boots and aprons. At 7am, shark corpses are cleaned of their blood by workers wielding water hoses. And by 8am, small teams are silently moving up and down aisles and rows like robots in a Japanese car factory, quickly slicing off every dorsal, pectoral and tail fin from the lifeless, grey lumps. Big hungry black crows squawk in the shadows, looking for bloody morsels. And shark fins plop with regularity into small yellow plastic baskets. The baskets fill up fast, are then weighed, and finally carried to a nearby truck, where a man with a notepad strikes a deal. At 9.30am, it’s all over for another day. Fork lift trucks scoop up tons of limbless carcasses, then dump them into a high-sided truck. The process is a brutal sight to behold, and not for the faint-hearted.
The fishing port of Kesen-numa City is located in Miyagi Prefecture in North East Japan, and is the country’s only port dedicated to catching sharks.
Over two days in early July this year, I saw 119 tons of blue shark (Prionace glaucaof), ten tons of salmon shark (Lamna ditropis), and three tons of short fin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) landed on the dock at Kesen-numa. Not to mention several tons of endangered bluefin tuna, (Thunnus thynnus), but that’s a whole other story. Taking government transparency to another level, landed shark tonnage numbers are provided daily by the port of Kesen-numa’s Japanese only website, which is publicly, (and apparently unashamedly), available.
Could a new battle between marine conservationists battling to save the sharks and the Japanese fishing lobby be on the horizon? First there was the annual showdown in the Southern Ocean between the Japanese whaling fleet and the environmental groups Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd to save the whale. Then there was the runaway success of the Oscar-winning documentary ‘The Cove’ which exposed the brutal Japanese trade in captive dolphins. One would think the tide is slowly turning.
Isn’t it time Kesen-numa City, Japan’s dirty little shark secret, was shut down too?