Fishy facts and figures

by Rob Gilhooly

* The global fish harvest topped 120 million tons in 1998, a threefold increase over 1960.

* Average per capita consumption of fisheries products worldwide has stood at around 16 kg per year since the 1970s.

* Average per capita consumption in Japan in 1996 was around 71 kg per year, making the Japanese the world’s biggest consumers of fisheries’ products.

* Norway is Japan’s closest rival, at around 65 kg per capita. Europe’s next biggest fish consumer, Spain, manages a little over half Japan’s figure, America around 30 kg. India, Nepal and Hungary, meanwhile, have an average per capita consumption below 5 kg. (All 1996 figures).

* In 1996 there were some 354,000 fishing vessels in Japan, serving 2,950 fishing ports.

* The number of people employed in fisheries here fell from a postwar high of 478,000 in 1978 to 270,000 in 1998.

* The most popular seafood in Japan in 1999 was squid, of which some 622,000 tons were supplied here (up from 498,000 tons a year earlier). Average per capita consumption in 1999 was 1.2 kg. Second favorite was tuna (1.03 kg). Squid also occupied the No. 1 spot a decade before (1.66 kg), followed by dried salted salmon (0.99 kg).

* In 1996, the top three aquaculture producers of food fish were China, India and Japan.

* Just 10 countries account for 70 percent of the world’s fishing activity. In 1996, China led the field — with a haul of 31.9 million tons — followed by Peru, Chile, Japan and the United States.

* In 1984, Japan caught about 13 million tons of fish and imported around 1.8 million tons. Last year, it caught 6.35 million tons, and imports stood at 3.55 million tons.

* Japan hunts up to 500 whales per year (including minke, sperm and Bryde’s varieties) — for “scientific” purposes. Supply of whale meat in Japan was 16.9 million tons in 1970, while in 1997 it was 151,000 tons. These figures also include meat from Baird’s beaked whales, bottlenose dolphins and Dall’s porpoises, openly available for consumption.

* The average daily calorie intake from fisheries products in Japan is around 190 kcals. In the U.S., it’s 29 kcals.

* Fisheries products account for 5 percent of a Japanese person’s daily food intake.

* In Japan, tai (sea bream) is traditionally served at weddings (and at New Year’s), as it is thought to bring good luck, a custom originating in the word medetai, or “congratulations”.

* At a sushi restaurant never order ikura and hamachi at the same time. You’ll just end up confusing the staff.

* There are reportedly more than 1,500 fugu restaurants in Tokyo alone. Each year, around 150 people are poisoned by eating fugu. More than 60 percent of cases are fatal.

* For some, this can be a desired effect. As the acclaimed haiku poet Buson wrote:

I cannot see her tonight
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu

* Fugu in English is translated in various ways — as a puffer, globe, balloon or blow fish. The two kanji that make up its Japanese name stand for “river” and “pig.”