The following news summaries are by Jeff Durbin. They are based mainly on information taken from The Asahi Evening News (AEN), The Daily Yomiuri (DY), and The Japan Times (JT).
Hatahata fish, a popular and formerly-abundant foodsource in the Sea of Japan, have recovered only slightly after Akita Prefecture removed a 3-year fishing ban last fall. The prefecture estimated that in Akita's coastal waters there are now 140 tons of the fish, double the amount of 1992. In previous decades, however, annual catches exceeded 10,000 tons. The local government says the decline is part of a natural population cycle; it is now raising hatahata in hatcheries. Others say that the decline is caused by artificial coastlines and industry. In several locations, coastal development coincides with shrinking hatahata populations. The fish prefers seaweed-rich shallow breeding waters. Less than 50 percent of Akita's shoreline is natural. (JT 25 Feb)
Tree-cutting along Hokkaido's Yurappu River has threatened Japan's last salmon-spawning river, and fishery officials are responding by planting alders and willows on its banks. The 28-kilometer long, free-flowing Yurappu empties into Uchiura Bay in western Hokkaido. The river is also home to over 150 bird species and 33 species of fish. The trees are crucial for controlling erosion and water temperature, and supporting the insect populations that the salmon depend on. (AEN 26 Feb)
Hiroshima Prefecture will spend 25 million yen in fiscal 1996 to protect the Miyajima dragonfly. A 1991 typhoon destroyed most of the dragonfly's remaining habitat. The dragonfly, Orthetrum poecilops miyajimaensis, is listed by the Environment Agency as a vulnerable species. (DY 12 Mar)
A comprehensive search for the endangered Japanese river otter in Kochi Prefecture has turned up no individuals. Biologists believe Kochi is the otter's only habitat left in Japan, and though there have been claims of sightings in western and central Kochi in recent years, there has been no official sighting since 1979. The river otter (Nihon-kawa-uso, Lutra lutra) at one time was abundant in Japan, but overhunting and the practice of lining riverbanks with concrete have brought it to near-extinction (DY 16 Mar). In a related story, the Kochi prefectural government has released the results of a survey to which 440 out of 600 households in Tokyo and Kyoto responded. Kochi says it shows that the Japanese public would be willing to pay over 14,000 yen per household in additional taxes to keep the Shimanto River clean. The Shimanto is considered to be the cleanest and most natural river in Japan (DY 18 Mar).
Asiatic black bears (tsukinowaguma, Selenarctos thibetanus) in the Hyonosen Mountains on the border of Hyogo and Tottori prefectures in western Japan are increasingly coming in contact with humans in surrounding villages. As the mountains are logged for development--often ski areas--the bears' food supply, mainly forest nuts, is diminished, and the bears wander down into the valleys for food. Farmers and beekeepers have tried various strategies to keep the bears away, but still lose an estimated 20 million yen a year in crop damages. The Wildlife Management Office recently sponsored a 2-day meeting in Hyogo to discuss the problem with farmers. Only about 100 bears remain in the mountains. (JT 31 Mar)
After 5 months in the Antarctic Sea, a fleet of five whaling ships has returned to Japan having caught 440 minke whales. Two ships docked in Nagasaki, and the Fishery Port there will distribute an estimated 1900 tons of whale meat around Japan. The other three ships are from Shimonoseki. Between 1987 and 1995 Japan legally conducted minke whale surveys, in which whalers killed about 300 minkes per year. In 1995, however, the International Whaling Convention suspended the surveys, and both Japan and Norway have been in violation of the convention. (JT 20 Apr)
The whaling fleet that returned to Japan last month with its winter catch of 440 Antarctic minke whales has brought more than whalemeat. Scientists onboard took sperm and eggs from some whales, and now are trying to fertilize the eggs in test tubes. Results of the first-ever experiment will be announced next month. For the moment there are no plans to implant a female minke whale with eggs, even if the eggs are successfully fertilized. That will come later, according to the Institute of Cetacean Research. (JT 15 May)
An APEC forum opening in late May in Chile will consider restricting the use of chemicals in fishing. Large fish popular for eating, such as the Napoleon fish, are captured alive with cyanide compounds and sent to restaurants in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. In addition, tropical fish for aquariums are caught by chemicals, which kill small fish and damage coral. As many as 25,000 tons per year of such fish are traded. Regulations that cover chemical fishing exist, but they are often ignored because there is little enforcement by governments. (JT 26 May)
The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission has opened in Aberdeen, Scotland, and Japan is asking for a catch of 50 minke whales per year in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, in addition to its quota of 450 in the Antarctic. The Japanese delegation claims communities in northern Japan depend on whaling for their economic livelihood and as an ancient cultural tradition. Japan, as well as Norway, is linking its arguments to 2 other requests before the commission this year: the U.S. is requesting a catch of 5 gray whales for the Makah people of Washington state, and Russia is asking that a far north aboriginal group be allowed to hunt 5 bowhead whales. Opponents of Japanese whaling argue that whaling in large factory ships and selling whalemeat mainly to expensive restaurants is neither scientific research nor traditional subsistence hunting. Japan's bid has been rejected 8 years in a row; to pass, it must obtain a three-quarters majority vote by the IWC. This year's meeting has also seen jousting over minke whale population estimates. Some countries are considering a total hunting ban, even if hunting becomes sustainable. According to a Japanese delegate, other countries, such as South Africa and Germany, are retreating from such a ban. Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1982, but low-level hunting may continue for so-called research purposes. (JT 19/26/27 June; DY 26 June)
The IWC annual meeting has closed in Aberdeen, Scotland, with Norway and Japan once again the targets of resolutions. The IWC assembly called for Norway to stop commercial whaling, and for Japan to halt its research whaling, though the language of the Japan resolution was milder than last year. Japan currently has quotas to kill up to 100 minke whales in the northern Pacific and 450 in the Antarctic. A measure to ban electric lances, directed at Japan, gathered 16 votes for to 8 against, but was rejected because a three-quarters majority is required. Japanese delegates won a small victory when the assembly decided to hold a symposium to consider Japan's request that 4 traditional whaling communities be permitted to take 50 more minkes. In other conference news, both the U.S. and Russia withdrew their requests for aboriginal whaling (JT 27-30 June). Four Japanese whaling ships have left for the north Pacific to start their minke whale hunt despite the IWC resolution. The IWC resolutions are not binding (DY 6 July).
A several-months old Tsushima wildcat (Tsushima yamaneko), accidentally caught in a net near a rice paddy on Tsushima island, has been taken to the Fukuoka city zoo, and may be used for captive breeding. The Tsushima wildcat, endemic to Tsushima, is on the endangered list with a population of about 100. Forest destruction and the introduction of hunting dogs to the island in 1902 have almost wiped out the wildcat. The Environment Agency and Nagasaki Prefecture have been trying since 1994 to capture animals for a breeding program to revive the species, but have been unsuccessful. The captured cat, sex undetermined, is 30 centimeters long with a 15-centimeter tail, and weighs 600 grams. When caught it was in poor condition, but has now recovered. Officials are discussing whether to use it in their breeding program . Tsushima wildcats live in the forest and hunt there and around rice paddies for small animals like mice and frogs. (DY 13 July).
This June and July about 350 loggerhead turtle eggs were found on Motosaru Beach in Oita Prefecture, three years after the turtles had stopped coming to the beach. In 1993 the beach road was widened to deal with increasing numbers of tourists, and construction carried over to the beach. Although beach reclamation was scaled back because of local opposition, the turtles did not return until this summer. For safety, the eggs will be stored in foam boxes in a facility until they hatch. (JT 29 Aug)
Japan's whaling fleet has returned from the South Pacific with a harvest of 77 minke whales. The fleet set out in July. The Fishery Agency says the whaling will provide data on distribution and migration of minkes. This summer's meeting of the International Whaling Commission called on Japan to give up research whaling, but the Agency says the IWC resolution is not binding. (JT 18 Sep)
A Japanese and British organization have jointly inspected zoos throughout Japan and have called on four to close down because of substandard conditions. The Japanese group, All Life in Viable Environment (ALIVE), asked the U.K. Born Free Foundation and a British zoo inspector to carry out the examination. Odawara Zoo in Kanagawa Prefecture, Petland Himeji in Hyogo, Shirotori Zoo in Kagawa, and a zoo run privately by Yoshikawa Shokai in Osaka all failed to provide a good environment for animals. At Shirotori Zoo, for instance, hippos and a polar bear had small cages with no bathing water, and an African elephant was on a 1-meter chain. Seven other zoos were named as needing to upgrade facilities. Ueno Zoo in Tokyo and Tennoji Zoo in Osaka received passing marks. (JT 13/22 Sep)
Chinese medicines containing black bear and tiger parts are still widely sold in Japan and other countries, at a time when tiger populations in particular are crashing. Tiger bone products are supposed to treat rheumatism, and bear gallbladders are used in expensive medicines to reduce fever and pain. Legislation and public education projects are limited in scope. The tiger population is estimated at 3000 in India and 5000 overall, and poachers are killing about one tiger each week. The Environment Agency announced a consumer education campaign last year, and tiger product imports are banned in Japan, but sales are legal and smuggling continues. Between 1978 and 1988 Japan imported gallbladders from over 60,000 bears in China and India, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Now North American black bears are replacing those from Asia as a source of gallbladders. (JT 7 Oct)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has adopted a resolution asking Japan to protect the endangered Amami hare (Amami no kurousagi, Pentalagus furnessi), which lives only on Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima islands. The Amami hare is a relic species surviving from the time when the Nansei chain was joined to the Asian continent. Since the islands became separated from the mainland, continental species have changed. Amami Oshima is 300 kilometers southwest of Kyushu. (JT 25 Oct)
Kujukuri beach in Chiba Prefecture will ban motor vehicles, bicycles, and helicopters after next summer. The law will cover a 60-kilometer stretch between Iioka and Ichinomiya. The beach is a nesting area for little terns (ko-ajisashi, Sterna albifrons), snipes, and plovers, and possibly sea turtles. The sweetbrier, a rare plant, also grows there. The prefectural government will adopt measures based on national park ordinances. (DY 26 Oct)
Scientists in Kitakyushu are looking for explanations of frog deformities in the Yamada Greenery park. This May researchers found 83 out of 1681 deformed frogs from the yamaakagaeru species. The frogs generally have an extra set of forelegs. Researchers checked the water for agricultural chemicals, heavy metals, and dioxin, but found none present. Until 1972 the park was part of a larger property that the U.S. military used as an ammunition dump. Only the Yamaakagaeru, out of 8 species that live in the pond, seems to be affected. The city government has set up a group to monitor the problem (DY 2 Oct). In the north central region of North America misshapen frogs are being discovered, and scientists there are equally baffled. The deformities include extra limbs, missing or shriveled eyes, and small sex organs. A University of Minnesota herpetologist found that the more aquatic frog species had greater abnormalities; he guesses that water pollution, possibly airborne, is the cause. The U.S. head of the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force says that methporene, used for mosquito control, is a top suspect. The U.S. EPA also plans a study. Amphibians, having permeable skin, are especially vulnerable to pollutants, and are considered "sentinel" species that warn of future risks (JT 11 Oct; 1 Nov).