Kesennuma, Japan's Destroyed Shark Fin Capital, Revisited...


A word on the lips of more than a few marine conservationists out there, right now.

I have received many messages asking me my take on the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that has devastated much of the East coast of Japan, and how they relate to the erstwhile shark-finning industry of Kesenmuma.

For the record, and I have been thinking long and hard about this, I can say that I strongly disagree. Karma, or poetic justice, has nothing to do with it.

The scale of the carnage caused by the earthquake and tsunami that I saw last week in the region of Sendai, which I have documented on this blog, was truly horrific.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, deserves to be on the receiving end of the full force of nature's wrath as seen in Japan on 11 March 2011. Never in my life, until last week, had I seen anything like that. And I hope that I will never see such a terrible tragedy in my life ever again.

So right now, my thoughts and prayers are not only with the people of Kesennuma, but with all of the people of Japan, during this very difficult time in their lives.

Gloating. Schadenfreude. Instinctual feelings for some perhaps, but on careful consideration, it is obvious that nature's destruction of Kesennuma also killed many innocent people, leaving behind many thousands of bereaved, including hundreds of unclaimed children from hilltop schools. Parents, grandparents, livelihoods, homes and countless treasured personal possessions have all been lost in the mud. Let me repeat myself. Shark fin or no shark fin, nobody deserves that. Whether one is Japanese, American, Thai, Indonesian, Chilean or Chinese, to be struck down so violently by multiple natural and man-made disasters in such quick succession is a terrible thing indeed. And for innocent survivors to be made cold, hungry and homeless in the aftermath is nothing more than diabolically unjust.

In my experience, the vast majority of Japanese are kind, fun-loving and gentle. Most Japanese have very little, if anything, to do with the shark-finning, tuna fishing, dolphin capture or whaling industries of their island nation. And even less have any opinion at all about marine conservation. It is only a tiny minority of Japanese that are molesters of fish.

Yes, it seems bizarre. But unless anyone can prove to me otherwise, the stark reality is that the terrible earthquake which resulted in the deathly tsunami was caused by nothing more than the ghastly shifting of tectonic plates. The epicentre was 81 miles off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, in which Kesennuma is situated. Geographical proximity to the epicentre and seismological activity are the only reasons why the tsunami hit Kesennuma, not karma. To suggest otherwise is preposterous, heartless and insensitive to the survivors. 

If one thinks that what was happening to the sharks was a grave injustice, one should hate injustice, not wish hate and destruction upon those Japanese who committed that injustice.

Will the townsfolk of Kesennuma pick up the pieces and start their shark slaughtering activities all over again? I don't think so. Boats are wrecked. Oil installations are destroyed. The infrastructure is just not there any more. And times have changed. In the same way that I think that the tsunami has sounded the final death knell for the Japanese whaling industry, conservation voices are louder in Japan now than they ever have been, and so I don't think the shark finning industry will recover.

A silver lining? Maybe. Will the sharks, tuna, dolphins and whales get a breather? Probably. But at such a heartbreaking price.

I believe that to show magnanimity, ocean conservationists should offer the hand of assistance to the people of this devastated region of North East Japan to help them rebuild whatever is left of their shattered lives. And, once the grieving has passed, and the reconstruction phase is well underway, we should help the people of Kesennuma find new and sustainable sources of income, livelihoods that do not wreak havoc on the marine environment.

To re-visit the last words of my blog post of 12 July 2010... 'Isn't it time Kesen-numa City, Japan's dirty little shark secret, was shut down too?' Yes, but, not this way surely...

For those who would like to make a donation to the relief effort, please visit the Japanese Red Cross website here.


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