Can we please like have a little self-restraint when it comes to eating salmon roe?

Poached salmon roe from Kamchatka Peninsula salmon?Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō completed a 2015 diplomatic agenda with two events outlining what is referred to as his “diamond strategy” for regional maritime security. He made a state visit to India and had talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Tokyo. Drawing readers attention to the idea of “maritime security”, I’m wondering, does that “maritime security” outline specifically refer to just strategic military security? Will Mr. Abe’s “diamond strategy” also include protecting wild salmon being poached in the Sakhalin Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula then sold in Japan?

Kamchatka Peninsula poached salmonSalmon poaching in the Sakhalin Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia are where thousands and thousands of wild salmon have been poached, and then after removing the salmon roe (eggs) from the female salmon, the salmon are tossed in huge piles only to rot wasting tons of salmon meat. The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 1,000 mile long region that produces up to one-fourth of all wild Pacific salmon. The peninsula is one of the “last large spawning grounds of wild Pacific salmon but some 55,000 tons of the salmon are poached annually”, according to Wild Salmon Center data.

“Some estimates show that figure to be much higher, Valery Vorobiev, head of Akros — one of Kamchatka’s largest fishing companies — told National Public Radio reporter Gregory Feifer during a 2007 interview that more than 100,000 tons of salmon are poached each year. Much of it, he said, was for fish eggs, or caviar, the carcasses are discarded.”

Despite various attempts that are still ongoing by various NGOs and government related and private conservation groups who are working constantly to stop salmon poaching on the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Sakhalin Islands, Russian authorities who are supposed to be cracking down on poaching have ultimately given up because the practice is so common in Russian waters. There are a lot of reasons for this mainly though, because so many Russians depend on the salmon industry for their living. The infrastructure is poor and they have really little alternative. So the wild salmon are being threatened and that threat is constantly increasing. In 2011, from what I have been able to dig out, about 70 percent of the crab and urchin roe imported to Japan came from Russia. However, Russian government officials estimate that one-fifth of the crab and one-sixth of the urchin roe (this is why I personally prefer not to eat urchin roe) sold to Japan was caught by poachers. One estimate is that the “loss to the Russian fisheries industry reached about $700 million (about ¥63 billion yen) in 2011 because of poaching”. Where does much of the poached salmon roe end up? In Japan. What we have here is a “never ending game” where there are people in Russia who are dependent on poaching to survive, and the Japanese who are more than willing to purchase salmon roe through various networks connected to Russian poachers to to sell in Japan in stores and restaurants.

Russia has asked relevant nations to sign agreements to prevent poaching and smuggling of illegal catch. So, Mr. Abe, why not get your friends inside the LDP and their cronies to invest in infrastructure projects on the Sakhalin Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula? And if you do include some very large freezers too please? Japan has placed restrictions on poached crab from Russia but not on poached urchin and salmon roe.

While such an agreement has already been signed with South Korea, negotiations are continuing with China. Japan signed an agreement in September at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting held in Vladivostok that stipulates that only crab that has passed through proper procedures can be imported to Japan.

Poached salmon roe ending up in restaurants in Japan?

Poached salmon roe ending up in restaurants in Japan?

Then we come to a restaurant in Hokkaido which offers its patrons a bowl of salmon roe but on the stipulation that if they don’t finish eating all of the salmon roe they could possibly gorge themselves on, then the patrons will be fined. Hitoshi Sugita, the owner of the restaurant explained that “the reason for the policy is not for financial gain. It is a way of paying respect and gratitude to the fishermen’s dangerous and sometimes life-threatening working conditions.” Would this include also paying respect to the poachers in Russia providing all the salmon roe patron’s of Sugita’s restaurant where they can gorge themselves on possibly poached salmon roe? And “respect” for the drift-net fishing off the coast of Russia that catches large amounts of salmon? The sockeye and chum salmon caught by such methods are mostly sold to Japan and South Korea.

It’s a nasty cycle. Drift-net fishing for salmon often over fish which reduces the salmon that would ordinarily spawn in rivers in Russia. When salmon catches are low, that means less employment at fish processing plants on the coast of Russia. This then results in many Russians being forced to poach for salmon to survive. That restaurant in Hokkaido serving salmon roe should also indicate on their menu where exactly the salmon roe comes from and how it was caught. Then the fines for not eating all the salmon roe that is served should be returned to Russians if that salmon roe has come from the Sakhalin Islands or the Kamchatka Peninsula. How about some renowned “Japanese graciousness” in return? A little reciprocity please?

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