The Eelgrass (a type of seaweed) which grows naturally off the coast of East Hokkaido and in the waters of the Notsuke inlet and the Notsuke Bay is the perfect habitat and feeding ground for a type of shrimp known as “Hokkai Shimaebi”.
In order to protect the natural habitat of the ocean and prevent the exhaustion of the Hokkai Shimaebi regular surveys are carried out, the data of which is then used to decide upon the amount of shrimp which can be sustainably fished that year, meaning that opportunities to taste this rare delicacy are quite scarce. Fishing for Hokkai Shimaebi can only be carried out twice per-year, in the early summer (mid-June to mid-July) and autumn (mid-October to mid-November).
The boats used for fishing Hokkai Shimaebi are called “Utasebune”. These traditional boats, the use of which dates back over 100 years to the latter half 1800s, are an important part of Hokkaido’s cultural heritage. Using triangular shaped jib sails, the boats are propelled entirely by wind power. With no propeller, the boat’s design prevents damage to the Eelgrass which inhabits the shallow waters of the Notsuke Bay, which is less than 5m deep in some areas.
These boats are very small, meaning that only one fisherman can board each boat at one time. From deciding which area to fish that day, to how to raise the boat’s sails to take best advantage of the weather conditions, as well as deciding which of the smaller shrimp should be thrown back into the ocean, the fisherman must make many important decisions alone.
The shrimp which inhabit the east coast of Hokkaido are free-range, living entirely off of the seaweed which grows naturally in the area. The shrimps pure and uncontaminated food source are what give the Hokkai Shimaebi their unique, sweet taste.
During the fishing season many photographers visit the area, hoping to capture the picturesque view of these beautiful boats floating serenely upon the water’s surface.
Text by Akane Hitora, Betsukai Government Office.
Translation by Phoenix Scotney, Coordinator for International Relations at Hokkaido Tourism Organization.