Fresh Fish!

April 1st, 2009By Category: Culture

Creative Commons License photo credit: knaakle Market Blue FishWe take a lot for granted these days. Just take the subject of fresh foods for instance. Meats, fish, produce, you name it, from the farmer or the fisherman to the wholesaler to the retailer to your refrigerator it’s all harvested, transported, processed, packaged and sold so quickly, cleanly and efficiently that we really don’t pay it very much mind. We pick it up at the market and more often than not it’s already sliced, diced, packaged and in some cases ready to eat. All we have to do is pay at the register and bring it home. But it wasn’t always so convenient.

For the farmer and the fisherman, it’s never been easy. You might easily be forgiven for thinking differently given all the technological advances throughout the years. But even the present times appear more than a little troubling. Both the farmer and the fisherman are dependent on the weather and neither has any guarantee that the harvest will be what they had hoped for from the outset.

Advances have helped both to increase their yields and subsequently their profits but, they’ve come with a down side too. The recent spike in fuel costs last summer created a potential catastrophe. The global economic downturn has people looking to cut costs wherever they can. Many times the first thing to get cut is in the area of food consumption. This can ripple through the entire economy. While it’s true that everyone is being affected, these difficulties are especially burdensome on fishing industry.

But just like the farmer, fishermen are known for being a hearty lot. History has shown us that with each advance, as well as each setback, they’ve learned to adapt. The profit margins have always been thin. Many times operations are often family owned to maximize profits. In olden times, childless couples either adopted sons or if they could afford to, hired on young boys or men to work the boats. Sometimes poor families even sold their children to the fishermen.

Labor was cheap and the work often backbreaking. Fishermen often went out to sea and stayed all through the night and into the next morning to bring in the catch. Some even lost their lives in the process. Even when the catch was plentiful there were times when the quality was poor. Innovative families found alternative ways to market the excess and/or otherwise unsellable fish. One of the manifestations of this resulted in the creation and production of “Kamabokko” or fish cake.

This delicacy is sometimes referred to as the “poor mans” sea food. Some families even specialized in its production. By adding different ingredients and experimenting with this otherwise waste product, they made it even more palatable and thus more profitable. Another way families worked together to make the business profitable was to sell the fish themselves. Some successful families opened their own market or restaurant.

It was also quite common for the fisherman’s wives to take the excess catch that wasn’t sold at the auction that morning and load it in large baskets.These were then carried on their heads from the docks in down in Itoman all the way to the residential districts of Naha and Shuri to the north. Here they would sell their wares direct to the consumer door to door, a method still practiced here on Okinawa well into the 1970’s. But, just as ice boxes, ice wagons and ice vendors went the way of the dinosaur, so too did the fish peddlers who worked the streets. Technological advances made them obsolete.

Now to see the fish market in action one has to rise early in the morning and make their way to either the old market in Itoman or the Naha. Here visitors can observe the morning auction and marvel at the astronomical prices some fish are sold for. From the auction bays, visitors can make their way to the retail markets right next door. Here you can observe the processing of the fish as it moves through the stages of production.

From the processing area it’s either placed in refrigerated trucks for delivered to the many markets and restaurants throughout the prefecture or out into the adjacent market area. There you can buy it as fresh as it gets and have it prepared virtually anyway you like it. Everyone down the supply chain has benefitted from the advent of technology. It has probably been most beneficial for the consumer. All that’s left for us to worry about is preparing our purchase for the evening meal and complain about the skyrocketing prices.

Author of this article

Keith Graff

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