Fishermen cry foul over ‘Cove’ depiction

by Takuro Iwahashi

Kyodo News

WAKAYAMA — Fishermen in the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, remain angered by “The Cove,” a film depicting their dolphin hunt, as screenings began Saturday in Tokyo and five other cities.

The film, which won this year’s Academy Award for best documentary, “ignores the feeling of awe shared by the people (of Taiji) toward cetaceans,” a senior official of the local fishery cooperative said in late June.

In this small town of some 3,500, the hunting of whales and dolphins has been a mainstay industry. On a hill overlooking the Pacific stands a cenotaph for whales, where local fishermen pray for their souls in an annual ceremony in April.

“We are not killing them as a hobby,” the cooperative official said. He argued that humans cannot sustain themselves without taking the lives of other living things.

For the local fishermen, the film is not a documentary but propaganda by dolphin conservationists.

In addition to violating some local individuals’ portrait rights by shooting the film using hidden cameras and microphones, the fishermen claim that the film contains factual errors, such as its claim that dolphin meat is sold as whale meat in the town.

The official said his group has been seeking the cancellation of its screenings for fear it would spread the wrong image about dolphin hunts, but admitted feeling powerless.

Meanwhile, a member of the cooperative said he has “mixed feelings” about the screenings of the film having been canceled in Japan earlier this year due to loud protests from a Tokyo group that claims the film is anti-Japanese.

Although he is opposed to the film itself because it “misunderstands” dolphin hunts, he believes the protesters’ group “does not represent the fishermen’s feelings.”

The Yokohama District Court has banned the group from staging protests around a movie theater in Yokohama, which is one of six theaters screening the film from Saturday.

The court’s June 24 decision on the injunction prohibits making loud speeches within a 100-meter radius of the movie theater and entering the movie theater without permission, according to distributor Unplugged Inc.

The Tokyo District Court issued a similar injunction Thursday to ban protests around a movie theater in Shibuya Ward.

Despite the continued controversy over the film, residents of Taiji, other than fishermen, seemed mostly nonchalant.

“No matter what someone might say, it won’t change what we have been eating since the old days,” said Hiroyuki Hata, 63.

“When the hunting season comes, I will eat dolphin again. Because they are tasty,” he said.

Dolphin is also eaten in the neighboring town of Nachikatsuura. In restaurant Ogawa, located near Katsuura port, raw dolphin meat priced at ¥1,050 was on the menu, along with whale dishes.

Served on sliced onions with ginger-flavored soy sauce, fatty and chewy raw dolphin meat slices taste similar to whale.

Yoneko Ogawa, 69, proprietor of the restaurant, said the number of customers has recently been on the rise, with young people coming from outside the prefecture, possibly because local dolphin hunting became more widely known due to controversy over the film.

“I hope people will try to learn about an unfamiliar food culture,” she said.

Meanwhile, local assemblyman Mikio Enomoto said he is afraid the town’s whaling and dolphin hunt might die out in the future under pressure from foreign countries.