Shark fishing in Japan

Sunrise is still a good hour away when the first batch of limp, lifeless sharks are winched ashore and dumped on to the portside at Kesennuma.

As daylight throws its first shadows on to the loading bay, fishery workers begin gutting the sharks before removing their fins with razor-sharp knives. It is a messy, blood-spattered business, and a study in industrial efficiency.

The fins are hurled into plastic buckets, and what’s left of the animals is scooped up by a forklift and loaded on to a truck. In contrast, the marlin, swordfish and bluefin tuna that share the port’s 1,000 metre-long bay are afforded almost reverential treatment.

Kesennuma, a fishing town on Japan’s north-east Pacific coast, does a lucrative business in the staples of Japanese cuisine: tuna, flounder, octopus, crab, bonito, Pacific saury, seaweed and squid.

But the trade in shark fins is its commercial lifeblood. The port, 250 miles north of Tokyo, accounts for 90% of Japan’s shark fin trade and the promise of eating the country’s best shark fin soup draws busloads of tourists every day in summer.

In 2009, Kesennuma landed almost 14,000 tonnes of shark, worth just over