MATSUE, Shimane Pref. – “Shijimi” (corbiculae), a small clam often used as an ingredient in miso soup, is dying off in Lake Shinji, and a marine scientist is spending his retirement money in a bid to restore the catch.
The Japan Corbiculae Research Institute, the first of its kind in the country, is the brainchild of Mikio Nakamura, 60, who has devoted more than 20 years of his life to shellfish research.
Nakamura, who is now retired, was head of the Shimane inland water fishery experiment center. He is known by locals as “Dr. Shijimi” for his expertise in corbiculae.
Using his retirement money, Nakamura set up the institute in January in the town of Tamayu by Lake Shinji, a brackish lake that connects to the Sea of Japan through Lake Nakaumi and yields Japan’s biggest catch of shijimi.
The catch in the area has been declining in recent years. The local clam industry was hit particularly hard when a large number of corbiculae died in 1997 for a still unknown reason.
“I wanted to solve unanswered issues about shijimi, including the cause of the mass death,” Nakamura said.
Shijimi are popular with local residents as one of the “shicchin,” or seven delicacies of Lake Shinji, along with carp and eel. The species purifies lake water by absorbing nitrogen that can cause pollution, Nakamura said.
His institute studies the environmental aspect of the shijimi ecology as well. One proposed research project, he said, is a study of lakes such as Lake Shinji where fresh water and seawater meet. Nakamura also plans to create facilities to educate children.
Shijimi fishermen outside Shimane, including those from Miyagi, Fukui and Kumamoto prefectures, have already found their way to Nakamura, tapping his expertise on the impact of shijimi growth from development projects and how to revive the stock.
“Shijimi is closely linked to human life. I hope to contribute research findings for conservation efforts and for the management of fisheries,” Nakamura said.
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