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« เมื่อ: กันยายน 03, 2007, 11:44:56 AM »

Source: Asashi News  World News    1/09/2007 11:31:04


Rie Yamada

As marine products go, surely namako sea cucumbers are hardly the prettiest--and to many people, unappetizing.

 

But not to Chinese, it seems.

 

Now, the farm ministry is seeking to capitalize on voracious Chinese demand with a project to increase the population of the odd-looking marine creature by studying its ecology.

 

A joint project, to start this fiscal year, involves 12 research institutes and universities in Hokkaido along with Aomori, Yamaguchi and other prefectures.

 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will also conduct market research in mainland China and Hong Kong.

 

Dried sea cucumbers are highly prized in China for their "revitalizing efficacy."

 

China's new class of affluent urbanites particularly covet Japan's wild sea cucumbers over those farmed in Liaoning and Shandong provinces.

 

The cost of the Japanese marine creature has risen fivefold in five years.

 

Japan exports one kilogram of dried namako to China for between 40,000 and 50,000 yen, the equivalent of the monthly salary of an average white-collar worker there, a Chinese businessman said.

 

"Those from Japanese waters are at the pinnacle of a pyramid of sea slugs," said an official with the ministry in charge of the project. "We want to offer a stable supply."

 

Hokkaido provides 25 percent of Japan's output. Wakkanai, its northernmost city, is famous for fishing the creature, called Hokkai Kinko.

 

At the backyard of the house of a local 66-year-old fisherman, dark sea slugs--about 10 centimeters long--are dried in the sun. "I keep them inside at night because sea cucumber theft has increased in recent years," the man said.

 

To preserve stocks in Hokkaido, a fishing ban is enforced for at least 46 days a year. In neighboring Aomori Prefecture, a ban lasts from May through September.

 

But poaching in Hokkaido, often by fishermen from other prefectures, is on the rise.

 

In October, the Muroran Coast Guard Office in Hokkaido arrested eight fishermen, including some from Ehime Prefecture, and a married couple who process marine products in Hokkaido, on suspicion of poaching.

 

The group had reportedly caught 30 tons of sea slugs off Muroran from May through October. A scarcity of slugs in Ehime waters had driven the fishermen to Hokkaido, famed for specimens that fetch higher prices.

 

In 2006, authorities arrested 22 poachers in Hokkaido. Illegal fishing last year cost the prefecture an estimated 160 million yen--or 55 tons of sea slugs. In contrast, there was no arrests in 2004 and just two in 2005.

 

This year, fishermen in Aomori, Hiroshima, Ehime, Oita and other prefectures were accused of poaching.

 

In June the Fisheries Agency, alarmed by the trend, increased the maximum penalty for poaching from a 100,000 yen fine and up to six months in prison to a 2 million yen fine and a maximum of three years in prison.

 

The ministry's urgent efforts to enhance and protect Japan's sea cucumber business is limited to some extent by the fact that so much remains unknown about the creature.

 

A task force with the Hokkaido government has asked Hokkaido Aquaculture Promotion Corp. to hatch 1 million sea cucumbers each year for the next three years. It will then farm them for a year and release them into the sea, where it will monitor their progress.

 

"If half of them can make it, our project will be a success," said a team official.

 

The attempt to increase sea cucumber numbers is not new. Twenty years ago, the Aichi, Fukui, Yamaguchi and Oita prefectural governments attempted a similar undertaking. It was abandoned because domestic consumption only increased by a small amount.

 

One of those who took part in the earlier project, Tatsuo Hamano, an associate professor of fisheries invertebrate zoology at National Fisheries University in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, said there had definitely been an increase in demand for sea slugs in recent years.

 

"In China, they say that sea cucumbers are good for giving you robust health," Hamano said. "Even if their prices dip lower than the current level, I suppose that they will still continue to fetch high prices."(
 


Source or related URL: http://www.asahi.com
 
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