BLOWFISH

Blowfish and Trade (BLOWFISH Case)


           CASE NUMBER:        283  
           CASE MNEMONIC:      BLOWFISH
           CASE NAME:          Blowfish and Trade




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A. IDENTIFICATION 1. Issue Is the evil blowfish - also known as puffer, globefish, or swellfish - in danger of extinction? In Japan, eating the honorable fugu (blowfish) is the ideal of gourmet dining-and the cooking version of Russian roulette. According to Japan Economic newswire, a Japanese wholesaler exported the first 90 kg of vacuum-packed fugu to Hong Kong in October 1995. Hong Kong is the second market to import fugu from Japan. New York, which started importing the fish in 1989, currently sells about 1 tons of fugu every year, according to the wholesaler. Fugu's trade volume is rising because of people's curiosity in eating such fish. 2. Description In Japanese, the word fugu is a general name for fish of the family Tetraodontidae, class Osteichthyes, order Tetraodontiformes, but it is also used more broadly, like the English word globefish, to indicate other fish which can swell their bellies or have a solid square shape. It is also used more narrowly as the name of the genus Fugu of the family Tdtraodontidae living only in waters surrounding Japan and the rivers emptying into them. Several species including the torafugu (fugu rubripes) are used for food. While the fugu has long been praised in Japan as the most delicious of all fishes, it has also been feared, as improper preparation may cause fatal poisoning. Even in the Meiji period (1868-1912) the sale of fugu was prohibited in some districts. The poisonous parts, such as the ovary and the liver, have been identified and strict supervision has been exercised by health authorities. This development has served to decrease the number of accidents, but, nonetheless, fugu caused the death of a famous kabuki (traditional Japanese theater arts) actor in 1975. At present, fugu dishes are enjoyed as delicacy, and lanterns made of torafugu skins, originally children's toys, are sold to tourists as folk part in Kanazawa, Shimonoseki, Moji, and other cities. The best season for fugu dishes is during the winter. Therefore, there is a large difference in prices over the seasons. Japan has been successful in artificial cultivation of fugu. Fishers catch fugu in spring because it is the spawning season. Then, they cultivate these fish in a cage in the sea. They raise fish until the price goes up and start selling fugu in the fish market in late fall. Fugu are sold while they are alive, therefore, transportation for fugu is exclusively arranged. The fugu's mouth are stitched shut because fugu tend to fight with each other in a small space. There are nearly 100 kinds of fugu worldwide, 38 of them found in Japan. The ovaries, skin, muscles and, above all, the liver may contain a deadly poison, similar to curare for which there is no known antidote. Yet fugu has been eaten in China for thousands of years and in Japan for hundreds. Ten thousands tons of fugu are consumed each year in Japan. Farmed fugu, not feeding on plankton, is not lethal. Usually, fishermen catch fugu with a fish hook and a fish net. They start farming fugu in a cage which they build in the ocean in the spring, the egg-laying time. They feed fugu on fresh fish until they grow up. Fishermen start to sell them from late autumn to early winter. There is also full-scale farming such as the artificial insemination. The small, spotted torafugu-the most dangerous and delicious variety are caught off the Korean coast in winter. It weighs as much as four pounds and costs one hundred dollars or more at Tokyo fish market. Fishermen use this fish, which blows it self up when threatened to make the lanterns that hang outside fugu restaurants. Only specially licensed cooks who know exactly how to cut up fugu are allowed to work there. At the University of Tokyo, professor Hashimoto and his colleague Noguchi showed a small brown vial of puffer poison, known as tetrodoxin. A pinch of the white powder -- about the amount found in one prime-sized tiger fugu -- is enough to kill more than 30 persons. The estimated lethal dose for an adult, a mere one to two milligrams, could be put on a pinhead. Puffer toxin blocks sodium channels in nerve tissues, ultimately paralyzing muscles. Respiratory arrest is the cause of death. There is no proven antidote, perhaps because the toxin has a molecular structure unlike anything previously known to organic chemistry. Because of its potency -- it is 1250 times deadlier than cyanide -- the toxin is an important tool in modern neurological research. In diluted from it is also used as a painkiller for victims of neuralgia, arthritis and rheumatism. Despite the danger, demand for puffer dishes is increasing so fast that Japanese fishing grounds are being depleted. Today, Japanese are culturing the fish on aquafarms. Every year from October through March, millions of diners bet their lives on not getting fatally poisoned. Thanks to strict regulations of restaurants and wholesalers, the number of deaths decreases each year. But this curious and preposterous fish remains the world's most deadly feast. The enigma of the fugu is summed up in the traditional expression: Those who eat fugu soup are stupid. But those who don't eat fugu soup are also stupid. Fugu is one of the most expensive foods in Japan. A single fish can bring $50 to $140. Cut up and served in a restaurant, it can bring $200. Yet fugu was increasingly popular. Each winter for 1982 and 1983, for example, has brought 40 million dollars in fugu sales at the small Haedomari Market in Shimonoseki, Japan's "fugu city." At one o'clock in the morning in the market, a large, high-roofed warehouse on the waterfront where 80 percent of Japan's fugu catch is sold. Even at that hour the fishermen have already transferred into warehouse tanks hundreds of live fish caught as far away from Korea. At wholesale price of $20 a pound, an auctioneer Hisashi Matsumura has auctioned each box of fish for $1,500 or more, all on a handshake. This morning he sells two tons of puffers -- $80,000 worth -- in about 40 minutes. From Shimonoseki, they will be tracked or flown throughout the country. However, the Wall Street Journal on December 1991 said that the sales are off as much as 50% at many of Tokyo's fancy blowfish restaurants as slowdown chills yet another sector of economy. Government officials said the economy is growing at a still respectable 3% annual rate, but they are looking at macro-indicators, ranging from the level of blowfish sales to the lavishness of year-end parties, exposes a more gloomy outlook. Blowfish isn't necessity but it is one of the most popular-and pricy-ways for companies to entertain their best customers in winter. At Takefuku, a blowfish restaurant in Tokyo Ginza district, a meal made up if a blowfish hor d'oeuvre, blowfish sashimi, blowfish stew, blowfish-and-rice soup and fruit easily costs 30,000 yen ($230) a head. All of this makes it a kind of early indicator of the business climate. 3. Related Cases MALAY case INDONES case SQUID case SEACUKE case SHARK case Keyword Clusters (1): Product = FOOD (2): Bio-geography = OCEAN (3): Environmental Problem = Species Loss Sea [SPLS] 4. Author: Akiko Takeda (May, 1996) B. LEGAL Cluster 5. Discourse and Status: AGRee AND COMPLETE 6. Forum and Scope: JAPAN AND UNILATeral 7. Decision Breadth: (1) 8. Legal Standing: None C. GEOGRAPHIC Cluster 9. Geography a. Geographic Domain: Asia b. Geographic Site: East Asia c. Geographic Impact: Japan 10. Sub-National Factors: NO 11. Type of Habitat: OCEAN D. TRADE Cluster 12. Type of Measure: Import Standard [IMSTD] 13. Direct vs. Indirect Impact: Direct 14. Relation of Trade Measure to Resource Impact a. Directly Related to Product: YES b. Indirectly Related to Product: NO c. Not Related to Product: NO d. Related to Process: YES Species Loss Sea [SPLS] 15. Trade Product Identification: Blowfish 16. Economic Data Japan consumes 20,000 tons of blowfish per year, 6,800 tons in imports. 17. Degree of Competitive Impact: Low 18. Industry Sector: FOOD 19. Exporters and Importers: MANY and JAPAN E. Environment Cluster 20. Environment Problem type: Species Loss Sea [SPLS] 21. Species Information Name of Species: Blowfish Type: Puffer, Swellfish, Globefish Diversity: About 100 species throughout the world 22. Impact and Effect: MEDIUM AND PRODuct 23. Urgency and Lifetime: NO Lifetime depends on the species. However, there is well- established methods for extinction for blowfish as a whole in Japan. There might be a problem if fugu eaters start to seek new taste which could only be obtained by trading with other countries. 24. Substitutes: LIKE products F. Other Factors 25. Culture: YES Puffers have fascinated observers around the world for centuries. Symbols of the fish have been identified on tombs of Egypt's V Dynasty, 2700 B.C. Ancient Egyptians obviously used one puffer species as a ball in an primitive game of bowls. The highly toxic Red Sea porcupine fish may have prompted the biblical injunction: "These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you" (Deuteronomy14: 9-10). Puffers are also found in the Indian Ocean and in the South Pacific. Puffers in North American waters can be equally deadly. John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts describes in Sea of Cortez how they offered to buy a puffer from a boy in Baja California, but the boy refused, "saying that a man had commissioned him to get this fish and he was to receive ten centavos for it because the man wanted to poison a cat." In China, fugu was able to be observed in the river, therefore, people started use two characters which mean "river" and "pig". Also, it is told that ancient Chinese people thought fugu looked like pigs and make noise like pigs do. In the Korean peninsula, fugu has been eaten but it is not staple. In Japan, eating fugu has been the gastronomic version of Russian roulette for centuries. "His chopsticks roll to the table from nerveless fingers; he pales; his breathing labors." Dining on fugu is often the subject of traditional senryuverse. Last night he and I ate fugu; Today I help carry his coffin. "It's a terrible death," a Japanese cook said. "Although you can think clearly, you cannot speak or move and soon cannot breathe." Why the Japanese should make a ritual eating deadly poisonous fish is difficult for foreigners to comprehend. For many the elegant, death-defying event is a status symbol, and disciples say that consumption of the meat produces a pleasant, warm tingling. Nonetheless, fugu ovaries, intestines and livers can be so deadly that if even touch of them is left in the fish, the diner dies, sometimes in minutes. About 60% of puffer poisonings prove fatal. But as the haiku poet Buson observed, for some that is the enticement: I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up So I will eat fugu. In the medieval era, the Tokugawa shogunate regime strictly banned blowfish consumption. But it became popular again around the end of the regime in the mid-19th century as the government lost control over the people. Kiichi Kitahara, the owner of Blowfish museum in Osaka, noted as follows: "Human beings are funny. They want to eat what is forbidden. The history of blowfish is the history of prohibition by authorities. If blowfish weren't poisonous, they might not be so popular." The diner puts his life in the hands of the chef. All licensed fugu cooks must take intensive courses, extensive apprenticeship and written exams. Despite all this, the fatalities continue. The puffer claims 70 to 100 lives each year, mostly in rural areas and from fish improperly cleaned at home. In January 1975, the revered Mitsugoro Bando VIII, one of Japan's most gifted Kabuki actors (he had been officially designated a "living national treasure" by the government) died of paralysis and convulsions after eating fugu liver in Kyoto restaurant. Chefs are prohibited from serving fugu liver but they sometimes relent under the impassioned thrill of gourmet. Mitsugoro Bando took four servings for himself-and paid ultimate price. As Kitaoji Rosanjin, the potter and gourmet, wrote: "The taste of fugu is incomparable. If you eat it three or four times, you are enslaved...Anyone who declines it for fear of death is really pitiable person." But despite all this, fugu is the only delicacy which cannot served to the emperor and his family. 26. Human Rights: YES 27. Transboundary Issues: No 28. Relevant Literature Bateman, Micheal. "Master of Bons; 'Kaiseki', haute cuisine in miniature, is the Art of Japanese Chef Hirohisa Koyama. Micheal Bateman Met Him." The Independent (March 26, 1995): 62. "Blowfish Claims Another Victim in Japan." Agence France Presse (November 20, 1995). "Blowfish Exporter Pins Hopes on Hong Kong." The Nikkei Weekly (December 25, 1995). Heibonsha, Sekaidaihyakkajiten 24. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1992. Hirao, Sachiko. "'Fugu' Museum's Mission Said at End Now." The Japan Times Weekly International Edition (February 5-11, 1996): 16. "Japanese Wholesaler to Export Blowfish to Hong Kong." Japan Economic Newswire (October 22, 1995). Kanabayashi, Masayoshi. "Depth of Japan's Economic Slowdown May Be Fathomed From 'Fugu Index'." The Wall Street Journal, (December 4, 1991): Section A. 12:2. Kodansha, Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan (3). Tokyo: Kodansha, 1983. Lewyn, Mark. "A Japanese Delicacy for the Daring." Business Week (May 28, 1991): 108. Reichl, Ruth. "America's Costliest Eatery: Great Blowfish for $500." The Dallas Morning News (June 27, 1994): 6C. Terzani, Angela. Kultur des Essens. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 1987. Vietmeyer, Noel D. "The Preposterous Puffer." National Geographic, 166 (August 1984): 260-70. Vietmeyer, Noel D. "The Puffer - World's Deadliest Delicacy." Reader's Digest, 126 (June 1985): 173-6. Vollentine, Ben. "Fisherman's Prize Too Deadly to Eat." The Times Picayune (February 9, 1995): 2G.

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May 18, 1996