© Himi City, Toyama Prefecture
The fleet was grounded and I missed my chance to watch the fishing. The daily auction would proceed, I presumed, to dispose of the previous day’s dregs. 6:00 a.m. found us pummeled by the gale, searching for a way into Himi’s control central–the Fisheries Association building, a large concrete industrial-looking structure perched at the edge of a large harbor fronted by jetties.
We eventually found the way in and slipped into the black, felt-lined, knee-high rubber boots that everyone wore. The concrete floor of the auction room was slick with puddles and open to the sea. We were given yellow plastic visitor’s tags, which we draped around our necks. We were told to behave ourselves and stay out the way. The cavernous concrete space was dim in dark early morning. There was a group of exchange students from Colgate University, there to intern at the docks. We were shown around the facility by Mr. Tatsuyuki Hirose, General Manager of the Himi branch of Japan Fisheries Cooperative who one of the women in our group said looked like Richard Gere.
I sat down with Mr. Hirose in one of the large office spaces off the main hall. Mr. Hirose told me that Himi is renowned not only for its variety of seafood but the way it’s caught. Himi’s fishermen are masters of a technology that goes back centuries called fixed net fishing. Mr. Hirose said Himi is the only place where this ancient art is practiced all year (two other ports along the Japan Sea Coast use the technique but only in summer).
Two parallel nets over a quarter mile long are set in relatively shallow water on the edge of the steeply dropping floor of Toyama Bay. The nets taper and rise together at their tip. Using their boats, the fishermen drive fish into a gate that opens into the tapered corral of the nets. It’s almost like a cattle drive! The fish are then herded into the net’s shallow tip, where they’re scooped up with long-handled nets. The catch suffers a minimum of trauma. Mr. Hirose said 70% of the catch escape, which is one of the reasons Himi has such good fishing season after season.
The Bay is rich in sardines and other baitfish. When I was there, fish like marlin, bonito, immature yellowtail, and mahi-mahi were feasting on the bait (and being served up in sushi, sashimi and chirashi). A small black and white striped snapper (tai) was around as well as a number of different types of squid. The sea also provides an array of shellfish—absolutely delicious sweet shrimp, and, in October, when I was there, something called “Babylon Shell”, a large snaillike crustacean that is eaten both raw and cooked.
To continue onto part three of this story, click here.
By Kenneth Wapner