Shark fin promoted at Osaka seafood expo

Shark fin soup was one of the most prominent items displayed at the Seafood & Technology Expo in Osaka, held 21 to 22 February at ATC Hall. Three companies from the tsunami-ravaged town of Kesennuma featured the soup, and a Kobe based importer with its own factory in Indonesia was offering the fins as an ingredient.

The factory of Kesennuma-based Ishiwata Shoten was completely destroyed by the tsunami, and they are still in the early stage of rebuilding. The company continues operation by borrowing space from another company, which generously charges them no rent. Ishiwata Shoten’s owner lost his life in the disaster, while other employees were spared. Their retail lineup includes shark fin ramen, Chinese-style soups and shark meatballs for hotpot stews. They also make a 980-gram tray pack for the foodservice market containing 15 pieces in broth.

Shark fin has become a controversial product in the U.S. and Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Illinois, Guam along with the Northern Marianas, have banned possession of fins. Rising incomes in China have allowed more people to serve the soup at festive occasions, creating great demand and putting pressure on shark stocks. Worse, after finning, the remainder is often discarded. Unlike bony fish, sharks store urea in their kidneys and blood, which helps them maintain an isotonic balance with surrounding seawater. The urea converts to ammonia soon after death, spoiling the meat, so they must be cleaned quickly after capture, but this is not always feasible on a busy vessel.

However, Ishiwata Shoten Sales Manager Daiske Chiba said that in Japan there is little anti-shark fin sentiment. The soup has long been eaten here, so Japanese are very familiar with it. The whole fish is used, for example in fishcake production. Additionally, collagen is extracted from cartilage for supplements, which have seen a sales boom in Japan. He said that sharks are a mainly bycatch of the tuna fishery and are not specifically targeted. Blue shark (Prionace glauca) is the main species the company uses.

Kesennuma is the leading port for shark in Japan, and blue sharks make up about 80 percent of the catch there, with salmon shark (Lamna ditropis) second and shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) a distant third. Blue shark is especially suitable for production of “hanten,” a fluffy white fishcake.

Abecho Mermaid Foods Co., Ltd. based in Tokyo also has a processing facility in Kesennuma. It was damaged in the disaster, but has been repaired. They first introduced their shark fin soup line two years ago, and have recently introduced a premium line. They displayed luxury gifts sets, including one with salmon roe, sea urchin eggs, abalone and shark fin. They export meat of the salmon shark, which they describe as not suitable for fishcake, but good to eat. They offer shark meat in various forms: rounds, dressed, fillets, loins, and heads.

Endo Shoten of Kesennuma offers single-serving soup packs made by a contracted packer, as well as foodservice and processing product.

Kobe-based Nihon-Novelica established its own factory in Indonesia to process and import shark fin. Black tipped reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and dogfish are the main types harvested there. They do not sell retail products, but rather import and sell a wide variety grades and shred sizes to Japanese distributors.  Dogfish makes up 60-70 percent of his trading. This is sourced worldwide, while reef shark is processed at their factory. Fins are mainly sent to Japan, while the meat is exported to Vietnam, China and the EU.


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