Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fishing dolphins, a tradition that is soon to disappear

The fishing port of Futo in the city of Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, stopped its traditional drive-in fishery of dolphins in fall 2004 because of restrictions imposed by the Fisheries Agency and is now trying to attract more young divers for its survival."We have become unable to eat dolphins, a meat we have eaten since ourchildhood. It is frustrating," 78-year-old fisherman Keiichi Hiyoshi saidsomberly.

When a reconnaissance vessel returned to the port telling people of a largegroup of dolphins off the coast, even residents engaged in farming rushedoffshore, and a fleet of dozens of fishing boats drove hundreds of dolphinsinto the port. It was a tradition since the Edo period (1600-1868), Kyodo News reported.But the tradition came under fire from animal protection organizations as being cruel. In 1980, a Canadian man was arrested on a charge of removing a net to prevent dolphins from escaping from the port.

Fearing that dolphins might be overfished as substitutes for whales under amoratorium on commercial whaling, the Fisheries Agency fixed a catch quota on dolphins in 1991.The labor-intensive fishing method was unprofitable with the quota, and Futo, which was the last port on the Izu Peninsula to continue such fishing, has caught no dolphin since fall 2004. The tradition is on the verge of extinction, also with aging fishermen.Fishermen can see a group of dolphins offshore even now, but they no longer pay attention. "The story ends by saying there were dolphins yesterday," Hiyoshi said.

The port is surrounded by small hills, and fishing can be done in the port even during winter when the sea is rough due to storms. But Hiyoshi is concerned about decreasing fish resources in the port.About 10 years ago, edible brown algae growing on rocks in the portdisappeared. The days of a good catch of sagittated calamari are becoming few."Is it because of wastewater or global warming? I don't know the reasonbecause it's a problem in the sea, but the environment is certainlydeteriorating," he said.

On a fine day during the rainy season in mid-June, there were young people in the port enjoying diving. Futo opened a diving center directly run by its fishery cooperative in 1988 to make up for livelihood in the fishinglow-season.Even today, the meat of dolphins caught in other prefectures is on sale at fish markets in the port, but Hiyoshi never buys it. "My pride does not let me eat it as I can catch dolphins myself," he said.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"