By Tamotsu Saito / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterHIRONO, Iwate — Iwate Prefecture boasts the largest salmon catches in the Honshu region. The volume this year is expected to return to the level seen before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which hit the prefecture badly. I visited the coastal town of Hirono in the prefecture, where salmon return to their natal streams.
At 5:30 a.m., 11 fishermen got together in a lodging house at a fishing port before heading out to where a net was fixed offshore. It took them about five minutes by boat.
Hiroyuki Funawatari, the 55-year-old captain of the vessel, gave me a tip, saying, “Chum salmon taste better before they run upstream, where their eggs absorb nutrition.”
As soon as they arrived at the net, the fishermen deftly began to haul it in with a bamboo stick, and set it up in a machine.
At the call, they rolled the net up together. The flapping of the fish caught inside it made a loud splashing sound. The fishermen took them out with a massive scoop net and dropped them into a tank in the hold.
“There aren’t many salmon yet,” said Funawatari. I looked carefully at the shoal of fish that had just been caught, only to spot several white fish among them, slim but slightly larger than plump inada yellowtail. These white fish were the chum salmon.
After bringing the ship up to the quay next to the fish market, the fishermen began unloading the day’s catch — 22 salmon. They sorted the fish as they came down the ramp by type and size. In the season’s peak of November, as many as 4,000 to 5,000 salmon can be caught each day. As the fishermen wolfed down a late breakfast, the morning catch was weighed and quickly sold at auction.
Yukio Sawajiri, chief accountant of the Taneichiminami fisheries cooperative, took me to the nearby Ugegawa river, where the salmon run had already begun.
Blocked by an iron fence, the salmon were unable to go upstream, and were instead driven into a channel connected to a hatchery. Their bodies looked black.
“We wait until they mature a bit more before catching them, gathering their eggs and artificially fertilizing them” said Sawajiri.
“Young fish will be released from here next spring and come back after swimming in the northern ocean for about four years,” he explained.
It took two years to rebuild the hatchery, which was swept away by the 2011 tsunami. Although the number of salmon returning to the river declined in proportion to the amount of fish in stock, the figure is gradually picking up again.
“We’re hoping it will recover to the pre-earthquake level this year. We’d like to see as many fish as possible in our hometown,” he said.
At the lodge, I had the pleasure of tasting a variety of specialty dishes featuring salmon. Fresh roe soaked in soy sauce had a sweet flavor. It was exquisite when served with salmon flakes on top of a bowl of rice.
Grilled with vegetables in the chanchanyaki style, the fish went well with the rich taste of miso. On the other hand, hizu namasu, the thinly sliced cartilage of the salmon head that is a New Year’s delicacy, had a lighter taste. With a faint aroma of the sea, I savored the flavors nurtured in the northern oceans.
Kohachiya in Hirono sells fishery products. It also sells raw salmon around October and November, both at the shop and online, depending on fishing conditions and catch volumes. Salmon is available whole or sliced. For more details, call (0194) 65-5222, in Japanese. At Iwate Ginga Plaza in the Ginza district of Tokyo, which promotes regional products, salted salmon will be sold during a festival featuring Iwate salmon from Dec. 6 to 9.
To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&dSpeech