Lake Shinji   Leave a comment

Clammering for a good catch

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Lake Shinji

Lake Shinji in eastern Shimane Prefecture is an ornithologists’ delight. More than 200 species of birds have been spotted at the country’s seventh-largest lake, which also is visited by more than 40,000 wild geese and ducks each year.

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Bird fanciers have had a special treat this year as more than 30,000 tufted ducks have been sighted at the lake–at least 10,000 more than the annual average.

While the lake is a haven for birds, its brackish water, which has a salt concentration equivalent to 10 percent of that of seawater, makes it an ideal home for about 80 species of fish and shellfish.

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The lake is well known as the country’s leading spot for harvesting shijimi clams. About 6,000 tons of clams are taken from the lake annually–between 30 percent and 40 percent of the national total.

The collection of shijimi is only permitted during a three-hour period on four mornings a week, with the starting times of each day varying depending on the season. On clamming days, about 300 shijimi boats can be seen floating on the lake. Many a poem has been penned about this spectacle.

Clammers catch shijimi with an instrument known as a joren. It consists of a basket with rakelike teeth attached to the end of a long pole. The clammers press down on the pole so that the teeth at the other end press against the bottom of the lake, before dragging it along to scoop up their catch.

The lake’s average depth is 4.5 meters and its deepest point is six meters.

The clammers use a machine to sift out the shijimi soon after bringing their catch to the harbor.

Akio Ibara started out clamming for shijimi by helping his father at the age of 17, and has now been in the game for 60 years.

“Nowadays you’re only allowed to catch 1! boxes worth,” Ibara said, producing a blue box containing his day’s catch of shijimi. “You can only catch up to 120 kilograms.”

Torrential rain in July 2005 reduced the salinity of the lake, resulting in about 30 percent of the shijimi perishing. The lake is finally recovering from the effects of this dilution of the salt content, but to avoid overharvesting, the lake’s fishermen’s cooperative adjusts permissible quotas each day after checking conditions.

Lake Shinji also is famous for its beautiful sunsets. Visitors can be seen at dusk taking pictures of the setting sun at a spot from which they can see Yomegashima island–the only island within the 8,200-hectare lake’s 47-kilometer perimeter.

Tourists can also take advantage of a sunset cruise boat service.

(This is the final installment of the Ramsar Wonders series)

Posted November 20, 2008 by japanexplorer

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