2015.03.11 Mitsuko Iwai
"Watasu Nihonbashi" just opened in Nihonbashi, Tokyo as part of a project that aims to help the Tohoku region recover. And on March 7th, round-table discussions organized by "Samazing" (Association for Promoting the Kesennuma Concept, a City known for Sharks), which promotes a market for Blue Sharks, a staple of the Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, was held.
When we think of eating sharks, we usually think shark fin, so eating shark meat may not be a familiar concept. In Nihonbashi, there is a long-standing fish processing plant, "Kanmo," which was established back in 1688. Its specialty, hanpen, is made from Shortfin Mako Sharks and Blue Sharks, so Kanmo has had a long-standing relationship with Kesennuma. And although we may not realize it, we often consume shark meat in the form of hanpen or kamaboko.
According to Mr. Kunihiro Nishizawa, the former editor of "Nikkei Health" and "Nikkei Premier," who took part in the discussions, shark meat is rich in collagen "so it helps promote both beauty and health, something women 50 and above, the key target group of the health market, strongly desire." He also stated that shark meat might become very popular in the near future.
During the discussions, participants got an opportunity to taste fried "toro (fatty)" shark meat. This fatty meat is found at the top base of the tail fin, right above the shark fin, and cannot be eaten unless the meat is very fresh. It's only this part of the shark that has the 3 key nutritious benefits of the shark - the skin full of collagen, the cartilage full of chondroitin sulfate, and low fat, high protein meat. Many people who tasted the toro shark meat for the first time were pleasantly surprised by its delicious taste. Some even hoped that it would become a specialty of Kesennuma.
Kesennuma accounts for over 80% of Japan's shark catch. But since the Great East Japan Earthquake, this industry has been under extreme pressure. In addition to the damages inflicted by the earthquake, the price of fishes has continued to decline. Moreover, due to the anti-shark finning campaigns organized by environmental NGOs, many foreign luxury hotels stopped serving shark fin, so the consumption has considerably declined in Japan. Samazing strongly asserts, "At Kesennuma, we have never just harvest the shark fin and throw the rest of the fish back into the sea."
Although we may think of sharks as a group of fishes, it is said that there are about "500 different species of sharks." A member of Samazing and the President of Chuka Takahashi Inc., Mr. Akira Takahashi explained, "We need to understand the different habitats, species, and properties of sharks, and determine which species must be protected, and which can be consumed as resources. That is why Kesennuma specifically refers to Blue Sharks. It's mainly the population of coastal sharks that is being affected by bottom trawling, which captures small sharks along with many other different types of fishes. Blue Sharks are found out in the open sea. They give birth to many offspring (40~50) at once, and they are at the top of their food chain, so the supply is stable." The Kesennuma longline fishing industry is currently preparing to apply for the MSC certification awarded to sustainable finishing practices for its traditional longline fishing methods.
Samazing will regularly promote its activities by, for example, introducing cuisine made with shark meat at the Kyushu Foods EXPO. There are a lot of topics that it needs to address. The association needs to communicate its awareness of the resource management of Blue Sharks. It wants people to become more interested in Kesennuma's shark cuisine, etc. The association will continue to undertake a wide range of activities with the belief that shark meat, which is full of collagen and chondroitin sulfate, will rise as Japan's society continues to age.