towns on the Hamadori coast pride themselves on their top quality
seafood, and the town of Namie, in the centre of the region, is no
exception. Salmon is Namie's speciality, and Izumidagawa River, which
runs through the centre of the town, has the largest fishweir in the
Tohoku region. Every year, from mid to late September, as the waters
gradually become colder, visitors to Namie can see the spectacle of
thousands upon thousands of salmon being caught as they swim upstream
The Izumidagawa Fisheries Co-op has sole rights to take salmon from
the river, and have been doing so for over one hundred years. Although
they can net over 50,000 fish in the few weeks the salmon return to
Izumidagawa River, the main aim of the organisation is breeding, as
opposed to retail sale or consumption.
Salmon return to the river of their birth every four years to spawn,
usually starting around mid-September and continuing through until
early December, depending on the weather. Water temperature is a large
influence on the numbers returning and the period over which they
return. Salmon will not start swimming upstream until the temperature
falls below thirteen degrees, and due to the late drop in temperature
this year, the fish arrived somewhat later than expected, with the
peak being in late October - early November rather than the usual
mid-late October. During the peak, the river's water is black with
fish, and spectators come in their thousands to see the Fisheries
Co-op cast its nets. During these few days, they fish six times a
day, pulling in between four and five hundred fish per catch on average.
The record catch for a single day is 2700.
Once caught in the nets, the fish are divided by sex. This is a quick
process, and can be done merely by looking at the head of the fish
- the males' heads are long and pointed whereas the females' are short
and rounded. The females, each of whom carry combined with sperm taken
from the males, and the fertilised eggs are then placed into special
incubation tanks, where they are left for twenty five days until they
hatch. The baby fish are kept in the tanks until spring, when they
are let loose into the river to swim out to sea.
The Izumidagawa Fisheries Co-op set itself the target of breeding
over 17 million baby salmon this year. However, this goal is lower
than those set in the past and it looks as if the targets will continue
to decrease in coming years. This trend is due to the decline in numbers
of salmon returning to the river, largely as a result of pollution
from Murohara River, which flows into Izumidagawa River. The co-op
was fortunate in 1998, however, that due to the heavy rain and flooding
in August and September, much of the pollution was washed away and
salmon numbers increased by 10,000 from last year to 50,000.
Although the majority of salmon caught are thrown away, the co-op
does sell a limited number of fish and ikura (salmon eggs) at their
shop. Visitors who can't wait until they get home to try their freshly
caught fish can also eat their fill at the nearby dining hall where
mouthwatering dishes such as sashimi, grilled fillets, ikura-don (ikura
served on top of white rice) and various set meals are served.
A major occasion in Namie-machi's calendar, the coming of the salmon
attracts people from far and wide, and with the continued hard work
of the Izumidagawa Fisheries Co-op in keeping salmon numbers high,
it should continue to be a popular event for many years to come.