US Adds New Sanctions on Cuba Tourist Attractions
The Trump administration is adding new names to a list of Cuban tourist attractions that Americans are barred from visiting.
The 26 names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beachside resorts far from the capital. All are barred because they are owned by Cuba’s military business conglomerate, GAESA.
Travel to Cuba remains legal. Hundreds of U.S. commercial flights and cruise ships deliver hundreds of thousands of Americans to the island each year. And nothing prevents the government from funding its security apparatus with money spent at facilities that aren’t owned by GAESA and banned by the U.S. But the sanctions appear to have dampened interest in travel to Cuba, which has dropped dramatically this year.
Fuel Shortages the New Normal in Venezuela as Oil Industry Unravels
With chronic shortages of basic goods afflicting her native Venezuela, Veronica Perez used to drive from supermarket to supermarket in her grey Chevrolet Aveo searching for food.
But the 54-year-old engineer has abandoned the practice because of shortages of something that should be abundant in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves: gasoline.
“I only do what is absolutely necessary, nothing else,” said Perez, who lives in the industrial city of Valencia. She said she had stopped going to Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, just 20 miles (32 km) away.
Snaking, hours-long lines and gas station closures have long afflicted Venezuela’s border regions. Fuel smuggling to neighboring countries is common, the result of generous subsidies from state-run oil company PDVSA that allow Venezuelans to fill their tank 20,000 times for the price of one kilo (2.2 pounds) of cheese.
But in late October and early November, cities in the populous central region of the country like Valencia and the capital Caracas were hit by a rare wave of shortages, due to plunging crude production and a dramatic drop in refineries’ fuel output as the socialist-run economy suffers its fifth year of recession.
Venezuela produced more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude last year but by September output had fallen to just 1.4 million bpd. So far in 2018, Venezuela produced an average of 1.53 million bpd, the lowest in nearly seven decades, according to figures reported to OPEC.
Bottlenecks for transporting fuel from refineries, distribution centers and ports to gas stations have also worsened, exacerbating the shortages.
PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Venezuela’s oil and communications ministries.
Relatively normal supply has since been restored in Caracas and Valencia after unusually long outages but the episode has forced Venezuelans to alter their daily habits.
That could hit an economy seen shrinking by double digits in 2018. For Venezuelans coping with a lack of food and medicine, blackouts and hyperinflation, the gasoline shortages could also increase frustration with already-unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.
“My new headache is fearing I might run out of gasoline,” said Elena Bustamante, a 34-year-old English teacher in Valencia. “It has changed my life enormously.”
Venezuela’s economy has shrunk by more than half since Maduro took office in 2013. The contraction has been driven by a collapse in the price of crude and falling oil sales, which account for more than 90 percent of Venezuelan exports.
Three million Venezuelans have emigrated – or around one-tenth of the population – mostly in the past three years, according to the United Nations.
Despite a sharp drop in domestic demand due to the recession, Venezuela’s collapsing oil industry is struggling to produce enough gasoline.
Fuel demand was expected to fall to 325,000 bpd in October, half the volume of a decade ago, but PDVSA expected to be able to supply only 270,000 bpd, according to a company planning document seen by Reuters.
A gasoline price hike – promised by Maduro in August under a reform package – could further reduce demand but it has yet to take effect.
Venezuela’s declining oil production has its roots in years of underinvestment. U.S. sanctions have complicated financing.
The refining sector, designed to produce 1.3 million bpd of fuel, is severely hobbled. It is operating at just one-third of capacity, according to experts and union sources.
Its largest refinery, Amuay, is delivering just 70,000 bpd of gasoline despite having the capacity to produce 645,000 bpd of fuel, according to union leader Ivan Freites and another person close to PDVSA who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
PDVSA has tried to make up for this by boosting fuel imports, buying about half of the gasoline the country needs, according to internal company figures.
In the first eight months of 2018, Venezuela imported an average of 125,000 bpd from the United States, up 76 percent from the same period a year earlier, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show.
But delays in unloading fuel cargoes have contributed to shortages, since Venezuelan oil ports are more oriented toward exports than imports, according to traders, shippers, PDVSA sources and Refinitiv Eikon data.
One tanker bringing imported gasoline mixed with ethanol was contaminated with high levels of water, forcing PDVSA to withdraw the product from distribution centers, a company source said, directly contributing to the shortages in Caracas.
The incident was the result of PDVSA seeking fuel from “unreliable suppliers,” in part because the U.S. sanctions have left many companies unwilling to do business with Venezuela, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The shortages last week prevented Andres Merida, a 29-year-old freelance publicist in Valencia, from attending client meetings.
“I had someone who used to take me from place to place but in light of the gasoline issue he would not give me a lift even when I offered to pay him,” he said. “He said he would prefer to save the gasoline and guarantee it for himself.”
Elon Musk’s ‘Teslaquila’ Faces Clash With Mexican Tequila Industry
Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and Mexico’s tequila producers could be headed for a collision after the agave-based drink’s industry group opposed the flamboyant billionaire’s efforts to trademark an alcoholic drink dubbed “Teslaquila.”
One of the world’s richest people and chief executive of Tesla, Musk is known for ambitious and cutting-edge projects ranging from auto electrification and rocket-building to high-speed transit tunnels.
Now it seems that Musk could be setting his sights on disrupting the multibillion-dollar tequila industry.
On Oct. 12, he tweeted “Teslaquila coming soon” and an accompanying “visual approximation” of a red and white label with the Tesla logo and a caption that stated “100 percent Puro de Agave.”
Not so fast, said Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT).
It argued that the “name ‘Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila … (and) Tequila is a protected word.”
The CRT keeps tabs on producers to assure they adhere to strict denomination of origin rules, which dictate the spirit must be made in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit or Tamaulipas, among other requirements.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, Tesla has filed an application to trademark “Teslaquila” as a “distilled agave liquor” and “distilled blue agave liquor.”
Similar applications have been filed in Mexico, the European Union and Jamaica.
“If it wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute,” said the CRT in a statement.
“Otherwise it would be making unauthorized use of the denomination of origin for tequila,” it said, adding that the proposed name “Teslaquila” could make consumers confuse the drink with tequila.
Tesla did not respond to several requests for comment.
Other high-profile celebrities have cashed in on tequila’s new-found international appeal, as the sprit moves into the ranks of top-shelf liquors and sheds its image as a fiery booze drunk by desperadoes and frat boys.
Last year, Diageo Plc bought actor George Clooney’s high-end tequila brand Casamigos for up to $1 billion.
Other recent deals in the industry include Bacardi Ltd’s January deal to buy fine tequila maker Patron Spirits International for $5.1 billion.
After years of speculation, Mexico’s Beckmann family launched an initial public offering of Jose Cuervo in 2017, raising more than $900 million.
In Factory After Factory, Kim Tries to Grow N. Korea Economy
For North Korean factory managers, a visit by leader Kim Jong Un is the highest of honors and quite possibly the most stressful event imaginable.
The chief engineer at the Songdowon General Foodstuffs Factory had looked forward to the visit for nearly a decade. His factory churns out tons of cookies, crackers, candies and bakery goods, plus dozens of varieties of soft drinks sold around the country. In its showroom, Kwon Yong Chol proudly showed off one of his best-sellers, a nutrient soup made with spirulina, a blue-green microalgae “superfood.”
“Ever since construction began everyone here had wanted the leader to visit, and this year he did. His visit was the biggest thing that could happen to us,” Kwon, smiling broadly, said of Kim Jong Un’s visit in July. “He ate our instant noodles. He said they were delicious.”
Not all managers have been so fortunate.
There’s a lot on the line for North Korea these days. And Kim means business.
Though the international spotlight has been on his denuclearization talks with Washington, the North Korean leader has a lot riding domestically on his promises to boost the country’s economy and standard of living. His announcement in April that North Korea had sufficiently developed its nuclear weapons and would now focus on building its economy marked a sharp turn in official policy, setting the stage for his rapid-fire meetings with the leaders of China, South Korea and the United States.
It also set in motion an ambitious campaign of “on-the-spot guidance” trips to rally party officials, factory managers and military troops.
After the announcement of the “new strategic line” and his first round of summits, including his meeting in June with President Donald Trump, Kim embarked on nearly 20 inspection tours around the country in July and another 10 in August, all but one of them to non-military locations. The military inspection rounds are instead being handled by the country’s premier, Pak Pong Ju, who has gone on 18 inspection tours from July, mostly to military facilities.
On-the-spot guidance tours are a tradition Kim inherited from his father and grandfather, the late “eternal General-Secretary” Kim Jong Il and “eternal President” Kim Il Sung.
They date to the late 1940s, when Kim Il Sung began gradually institutionalizing the visits to demonstrate his hands-on leadership and, as invariably portrayed by the North’s media, his deep care and concern for the well-being of the people.
Factories, farms and important industrial facilities are the usual destinations. But Kim Jong Un’s focus on them this year marks a break from excursions in 2017 to nuclear weapons facilities and missile sites.
Reflecting the gravity of his current mission, Kim has shown little patience for cadres who come up short.
On his July tour in the northern part of the country he lambasted officials at a factory that produces backpacks for students, saying their attitude was “very wrong” and “has no revolutionary spirit.” He then dressed down officials at a power plant that has been under construction for 17 years, criticized people in charge of a hotel project for taking too long to finish plastering its walls and slammed the authorities responsible for building a recreational campsite.
“Looking round the bathroom of the camp, he pointed out its very bad condition, saying bathtubs for hot spring therapy are dirty, gloomy and unsanitary for their poor management,” said an official report of the visit.
Tours top the news
Most inspection tours, however, go like Kim’s two-hour visit to the Songdowon processed foods factory.
With a gaggle of cameramen in tow — the tours are always top news in North Korea’s media — the site’s senior manager generally serves as the guide. Members of Kim’s entourage frantically take notes as he suggests tweaks of this or that and offers praise or encouragement.
Many factories put up red and gold plaques to commemorate the event. Some have special wall displays made afterward that show the exact path the leader took in little LED lights that can be turned on at the press of a button.
At Kwon’s factory, which has 300 employees and is located on the outskirts of the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, Kim advised managers to improve operations on an “automated, unmanned and germ-free basis, holding aloft the banner of self-reliance.”
Before the obligatory group photo session, the North’s official news agency reported, Kim voiced “his expectation and conviction” the factory would produce more quality foods “and thus more fully demonstrate the honor of being a factory loved by the people.”
But Kim also had a broader point to make.
He told the factory management that they must be prepared to work in a more competitive environment, to modernize and cut the fat. These are special times and they, and basically all managers throughout the country, need to step up their game.
“The Respected Marshal Kim Jong Un pays much more attention to the quality of a product,” Kwon said. “When he came to this factory he gave instructions to maintain a high level of hygiene because food is closely associated with the health of the people, and to keep the highest level of quality of products that people like. He said we must produce products that are world class, and produce a lot of foods that people like.”
Kwon said the pressure isn’t just coming from above.
“The people demand more quality,” he said. “When people look at the product, they must feel like they want to have it. So we are designing things in line with that. We have to satisfy the demands of the people.”
Gin Up, South Africa: Gin Craze Going Big
A recent proliferation of craft gins and new distilleries has taken over South Africa’s bar scene. But this is not your average gin, distillers say: South African gin is infused with unique local flavors — like fynbos, rooibos, marula, sceletium and other distinctive South African botanicals — that they feel will take the world’s taste buds by storm. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Gin Town, AKA Johannesburg.
Ocean Shock: In Land of Sushi, Squid Moves Out of Reach
This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them.
Takashi Odajima picked up a cracked and faded photograph and dusted it off with his sleeve. He smiled a little sadly at the image from long ago, back when he was a baby boy.
In the photo, he sits on his uncle’s lap as his family poses at a nearby dock, squid heaped in the background. In another, his uncle dries rows of squid, carefully folded like shirts over a clothesline on the roof of their house.
Odajima’s family has lived for generations in Hakodate, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. It’s a city steeped in squid, a place where restaurants outside the local fish market advertise the start of the squid-fishing season with colorful banners.
When Odajima’s father returned home from World War II, he supported his family by driving a truck for a local seafood company. He was paid in salt, a valuable commodity at the time.
Using the salt, his family began making and selling shio-kara, a fermented squid dish that derives its name from its taste: “salty-spicy.” Because it keeps for days without refrigeration, it was an important source of protein for Japan’s starving population after the war.
Seven decades later, most Japanese bars still serve it as an appetizer, and small bottles are sold in supermarkets as a condiment to be eaten with rice.
“Someone once asked me what squid means to people in Hakodate, and I told him that it was our soul. I was half-joking at the time,” Odajima, 66, said. “But squid was always the main dish, long before we started eating rice.”
Out of more than a dozen types of squid eaten here, the Japanese flying squid, or Todarodes pacificus, is so central to the national cuisine, it’s sometimes referred to as maika, or the true squid.
But now, fluctuations in ocean temperatures and years of overfishing and lax regulatory oversight have drastically depleted populations of the translucent squid in waters around Japan. As recently as 2011, fishermen in Japan were hauling in more than 200,000 tons of flying squid a year. That number had fallen by three-quarters to 53,000 tons last year, the lowest harvest since Japan’s national fisheries cooperative started keeping records more than 30 years ago. Japanese researchers say they expect catches of flying squid to be even smaller this year.
That such a ubiquitous creature could disappear has shaken a country whose identity is intertwined with fish and fishing, a nation where sushi chefs are treated like rock stars and fishermen are the heroes of countless TV shows. The shortage of flying squid, an icon of the working and middle classes, has dealt a hard blow to the livelihoods of not only fishermen, but everyone from suppliers to traders at Tokyo’s famous fish market.
The fate of the flying squid is a microcosm of a global phenomenon that has seen marine life fleeing waters that have undergone the fastest warming on record. Reuters has spent more than a year scouring decades of maritime temperature readings, fishery records and other little-used data to create a portrait of the planet’s hidden climate change — in the rarely explored depths of the seas that cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.
Fish have always followed changing conditions, sometimes with devastating effects for people, as the starvation in Norwegian fishing villages in past centuries when the herring failed to appear one season will attest. But what is happening today is different: The accelerating rise in sea temperatures, which scientists primarily attribute to the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a lasting shift in fisheries.
In Japan, average market prices of the once-humble squid have nearly doubled in the past two years, quickly putting the dish out of reach for many blue-collar and middle-class Japanese families that grew up eating it.
A Town’s Identity Threatened
Here in Hakodate, the squid shortage threatens the very culture and shared history of the town. One of the country’s first ports to open for trade with the outside world in the 19th century, it has the look of a Japanese San Francisco, with gingerbread Victorians and tram lines that slope down to the waterfront.
Odajima’s earliest memory is of his mother buying squid from a neighbor’s cart piled high with the morning’s catch. Now, fishermen barely have enough squid to sell to traders, much less to neighbors. A festival celebrating the start of the squid season in a nearby town has been canceled two years in a row.
Odajima still works in the family compound, a collection of deteriorating buildings near the Hakodate docks. Walking through a cluttered storage shed, he shows off the factory floor where he keeps his family treasure: dozens of 60-year-old barrels made of Japanese cedar. He’s one of the last local manufacturers still using wooden barrels to ferment and age his product.
Odajima also refuses to use cheaper imported squid, saying it would harm the brand’s locally sourced appeal.
But with costs skyrocketing, he isn’t sure about the future of his family business. His 30-year-old son quit his office job to help out after Odajima failed to find new workers. “I wanted to be able to hand it to him in better shape,” he said, “but now…”
One morning in June, Odajima joined a huddle of men at the docks for one of the first squid auctions for the season.
They looked over three neat piles of white Styrofoam boxes, comforting one another that it was still early in the squid season.
“Shit, they’re all tiny,” one buyer said. His friend walked away without waiting for the bidding to start.
At exactly 6.20 a.m., men in green jackets tipped their hats and began the auction. Once an event that used to attract dozens of buyers and take as long as an hour, this one took less than two minutes.
A gruff buyer supplying local restaurants that cater mostly to tourists strode to the front of the pack and bought all 11 boxes without looking. The rest of the group, including Odajima, hung back and shook their heads.
In the month of June, just 31 tons of fresh squid ended up at Hakodate’s main market, 70 percent less than the previous year. A typical squid caught in the Sea of Japan now weighs a third less than it did 10 years ago, according to surveys by Takafumi Shikata, a researcher at the Ishikawa Prefecture Fisheries Research Center.
An Early Warning on Squid
The squid shortage has become so dire, anxious bankers with outstanding loans to those in the industry have started showing up at the annual seminars held by Yasunori Sakurai, one of Japan’s foremost experts on cephalopods.
Sakurai, the chair of the Hakodate Cephalopod Research Center, began warning fishermen and other researchers about the effects of climate change on Japan’s squid population nearly two decades ago.
The flying squid gains its name from the way it can spread its mantle like a parachute to draw in and eject water, using propulsion to fly above the waves. The squid spend their short life — just over a year — migrating thousands of miles between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, mating, then returning to lay eggs in the same area where they were born.
Sakurai blames climate change for recent fluctuations in ocean temperatures — a cold snap in waters where the squid spawn and steadily warming waters in the Sea of Japan where they migrate. These changes mean that fewer eggs laid in the colder-than-average waters in the East China Sea survive, and those that do hatch are swimming northward to avoid unnaturally warm waters in the Sea of Japan.
The Sea of Japan has warmed 1.7 degrees Celsius (around 3 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century, making it one of the fastest-warming areas in the seas surrounding the archipelago.
Based on predictions by Sakurai’s former students now at Japan’s Fisheries Research and Education Agency, surface temperatures in these waters may rise an additional 3.7 degrees Celsius over the next century.
These changes have taken a toll on squid.
“It’s something that’s always been eaten on the side, and now it’s just gone. Everyone is asking why,” Sakurai said.
Others, like retired regulator and researcher Masayuki Komatsu, argue that although Japanese officials and fishermen are loath to admit it, the country’s rampant overfishing and lax regulatory oversight are also to blame for the shortage.
“They all blame it on climate change, and that’s the end of the discussion for them,” said Komatsu, who served as a senior official in Japan’s fisheries agency until 2004.
Since Japan started setting catch limits for the flying squid 20 years ago, fishermen have never come close to hitting the limit of the quotas. This year, the fisheries agency said it will allow fishermen to catch 97,000 tons of squid, a third less than the government’s limit for last year, but nearly double what fishermen actually caught during the same period.
The ministry acknowledges that flying squid, particularly those born in winter months, are rapidly declining. But officials say the catch limits are appropriate given the scientific evidence available. They say it is especially hard to study the elusive creature, which travels long distances over a short lifespan and is more susceptible to environmental changes than many other marine species.
“It isn’t scientific to simply say that because squid isn’t being caught, we need to lower the catch limits, when we don’t have the scientific backing to justify that,” said Yujiro Akatsuka, assistant director of the agency’s resources management promotion office.
A Fishing Town on the Rocks
Ripped curtains and fraying bits of cardboard cover windows of the empty storefronts along the main shopping street in Sakata, a town on the northwestern coast of Japan that once thrived as a major trading hub for rice and later as a fishing port. Old signs for grocery stores, camera shops and beauty parlors are barely visible through a thicket of vines.
Wooden warehouses that once stored the region’s rice are one of the few reminders of the town’s prosperous past. They were turned into souvenir stores after the buildings were featured in a popular television drama series.
On an early summer day, the docks were deserted except for a group of young Indonesian men living in shared rooms next to the port. They’re Japan’s answer to an aging industry, part of an army of young foreign men brought into the country to take fishing jobs spurned by Japanese men.
Shigeru Saito was 15 when he boarded his first fishing boat.
By the time he was 27, he was at the helm of his own ship. He never questioned his path. Both his father and grandfather, born on a small island off Sakata’s coast, had been fishermen.
Now 60, Saito has steered dozens of ships all over Japan.
When Saito started fishing, Japan had a fleet of more than 400 ships harvesting squid. He now captains one of the 65 remaining ships specially kitted with powerful light bulbs that lure squid from dark waters.
Until recently, his crew could return to port in two weeks after the start of the squid-fishing season in early June with their ship’s hold full of flying squid. Now, it takes them almost 50 days to catch that much.
“We’re having to travel farther and farther north to chase squid, but there are limits,” he said, pausing his round of checks to sit in the captain’s room of his ship, the Hoseimaru No. 58, where he sleeps in a tiny cot under boxes of equipment.
As competition intensifies for an ever-dwindling catch, fishermen have begun blaming trawlers from China, South Korea and Taiwan for overfishing in nearby waters. In recent years, fishermen from North Korea have also joined the competition.
Japan says North Koreans are illegally poaching squid in the Yamato Shallows, a particularly abundant area in the Sea of Japan.
Saito’s fishing lines got tangled in a net set by a North Korean boat there last year. Cautious about any confrontation with North Koreans, he and other Japanese fishermen abandoned the area early in the squid season.
“We can’t fish in these conditions,” he said.
Young Japanese men like Saito’s son are reluctant to join the industry, with its long months away from home and physically grueling labor. His crew is already half Indonesian. Soon, he said, only the captain will need to be Japanese.
In the last decade, the number of fishermen in Japan has declined by more than a third to fewer than 160,000. Of those left, an average fisherman earns about $20,000, not even half of Japan’s national median income.
“My son is a salaryman in the city,” Saito said. “I couldn’t recommend this to him â€“ how could I? We’re away a third of the year,” and, with North Korean poachers on the prowl, “the waters are more dangerous now.”
The next day, men set up folding chairs and tents on Sakata’s dock for a ceremony marking the start of the fishing season. Saito joined other captains in the front row, bowing his head with his baseball cap in his hands. Young Indonesian men fidgeted in the back of the crowd. Melodic chants of Buddhist monks filled the salty air.
“We know we are powerless before the might of nature,” one monk said as the captains fixed their eyes on the ground. “We cannot go against the power of the sea. But we pray for a bountiful harvest and safe passage over the seas.”
Anxiety in Tokyo
Several weeks had passed since Japan’s squid-fishing fleet left port. But in Tokyo, near the Tsukiji fish market, Atsushi Kobayashi was waiting anxiously. The specialist wholesaler still hadn’t received a single shipment of flying squid from northern Japan. His driver sat on the concrete curb next to Kobayashi’s truck smoking in the midday sun.
In the past, each week Kobayashi would unload three to four shipments of 1,200 squid, to be dispatched to high-end sushi restaurants around Tokyo.
“Last year, the fishing season ended in November because the squid disappeared” — two months earlier than usual. He unlocked his phone to message another customer that he had nothing to sell that day.
Elsewhere in Tsukiji, the largest wholesale seafood exchange in the world, hundreds of other family-run fish traders were also awaiting this season’s catch. But by the time cases of squid finally began to arrive later in the summer, many of the traders were preparing to close their stalls to abandon the 80-year-old market.
In October, hundreds of fishmongers moved to a gleaming new market on the waterfront that cost more than $5 billion. But others, their businesses already failing from a drop in consumer demand, higher operational costs and a lack of interest from the families’ younger generation, didn’t make the move.
Those who left felt a powerful sense of loss about a place that has been a colorful symbol of the country’s fishing industry.
Masako Arai was one of them. Her husband’s family started their wholesale fish trading business 95 years ago, first in Nihonbashi, where the previous market was destroyed in a massive earthquake and fire in 1923, and later in Tsukiji.
“Our families have lived here and protected this place for generations,” the 75-year-old grandmother said.
Near Arai’s store were empty spaces where families had tended shop for generations; more than a hundred businesses have closed in the past five years. Nearly a third of the remaining 500 fish traders at the market were losing money.
“It feels like we’re always on shifting sand, and we don’t know what the future holds,” Arai said.
Nor do the chefs who create Japan’s signature cuisine.
Kazuo Nagayama has visited Tsukiji most mornings for the past 50 years to buy fresh fish. Once back at his sushi bar in the Nihonbashi district, he changes into his white uniform to write out the day’s menu with an ink brush.
For the past few years, the 76-year-old chef has found it harder to list local fish he deems decent enough to serve to his customers. On this summer day, the first item on his handwritten menu was yellowfin tuna shipped from Boston.
“I’m worried that people won’t know what it’s like to taste truly delicious fish,” he said. “Fishermen feel they have no future, and fisherfolk are disappearing. Our culture surrounding fishing is disappearing, and our culinary culture is also fading.”
Nagayama doesn’t allow anyone else to handle fish behind the counter, where customers pay up to $300 each for the chef’s nightly omakase course. Although his tiny bar is usually fully booked, he doesn’t see a future for it — he has no children and no heir.
“We’ll have to close in the next four to five years,” he said. “I’ll be the last one here.”
‘Everyone’s Raising Prices’
At Nabaya, a dark bar across the street from his Tokyo office, Hiroshi Nonoyama sipped a beer after another long day at work.
“It’s all depressing news, not a great topic of conversation over drinks,” he said. Nonoyama manages a trade group overseeing 79 companies that manufacture everything from squid-flavored potato chips to squid jerky. They’ve been some of the hardest hit by the recent run of poor harvests, Nonoyama said.
“A lot of these guys are old school. They haven’t diversified beyond using flying squid, you see? And when that becomes too expensive? Boom!” he said, crashing his hand on the bar counter.
Already this year, two of his companies had gone out of business because of the rising cost of squid.
“I only heard about one of them because I got a call from the tax office about unpaid taxes,” he said, sighing. The owner, who had employed 70 workers for half a century, was now on the run from his creditors.
“Everyone’s raising prices, but how much are customers willing to pay?” Nonoyama asked.
It’s the same question that Odajima, the Hakodate squid merchant, asks himself every day. He has nearly doubled prices in the past two years to 700 yen per bottle.
“Buyers are telling me that if I raise prices again, they won’t be able to sell it as a side dish or condiment — consumers just won’t buy it,” he said.
His factory’s yearly output is almost half of what it was 10 years ago. Looking for ways to survive, Odajima is now courting boutique supermarkets and upscale restaurants.
Recently, Odajima flew to Tokyo to pitch his product. By the time he arrived at Ginza Six, a shimmering luxury mall in the city’s posh shopping district, he was already sweating in his oversized pinstripe suit. He adjusted his tie and patted down his freshly cut hair in front of Imadeya, a premium liquor store on the basement floor of the mall.
Two Chinese women sampled glasses of Japanese wine under a pair of Edison bulbs at the shop counter. Shohei Okawa, the store’s 36-year-old manager, waited patiently as Odajima pulled several jars of shio-kara out of a cooler he had carried on the plane from Hakodate. Folded copies of Tokyo’s subway map peeked out of his large duffel bag.
“As you know, prices are getting higher, particularly for squid,” he said, suddenly sounding formal and looking anxious.
“Which is part of the reason why we’d love to sell in a higher-end store like yours.”
“What other stores carry this in Tokyo?” Okawa asked. “And is this rare? Is it authentic?”
Odajima quickly added that his product was handmade with no artificial coloring.
Satisfied, Okawa said he would send in orders for a few cases.
Outside, leaning against the mall’s glass façade, Odajima was happy — for the moment, at least.
“I wonder what my father would think, selling it at a place like this,” he said. “It’s a little unbelievable. We had so much squid we didn’t know what to do with it. Now, it’s become a delicacy.”
Study: Millions of Small Asian Farmers Miss Out on Seeds Resilient to Climate Change
Millions of smallholder farmers in South and Southeast Asia are missing out on new, resilient seeds that could improve their yields in the face of climate change, according to an index published Monday.
The 24 top seed companies fail to reach four-fifths of the region’s 170 million smallholder farmers for reasons such as poor infrastructure, high prices and lack of training, the Access to Seeds Index found.
Access to seeds bred to better withstand changing weather conditions such as higher temperatures is vital as farmers battle loss of productivity due to climate change, said Ido Verhagen, head of the Access to Seeds Foundation, which published the index.
“We see increasing demands for new varieties, because [farmers] are affected by climate change,” Verhagen told Reuters.
“If we want to feed a growing population, if we want to tackle climate change, if we want to go towards a more sustainable food system, we have to start with seeds,” he said.
Smallholder farmers managing between one to 10 hectares of land provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia, said the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
But traditional methods of preserving seeds from harvests are not always sufficient to cope with a changing climate.
About 340 million people were hungry in 2017 in South and Southeast Asia, a number that has barely changed since 2015, according to latest figures from the United Nations.
“The question is how to get markets to provide the varieties [of seeds] that farmers want, at prices that they’re able to pay,” said Shawn McGuire, agricultural officer at the FAO.
Some smaller companies are leading the way in helping smallholders access more resilient seeds, Verhagen said, such as Thailand-based East-West Seed which topped the index ahead of global giants Bayer and Syngenta, which ranked second and third.
East-West Seed has built a successful business focusing purely on smallholders, he said, while Indian companies Acsen HyVeg and Namdhari, ranked sixth and seventh respectively, have also reached small-scale farmers with seeds.
The index, funded by the Dutch government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ranks companies based on seven areas including strategies to help small farmers and supporting conservation.
Amazon HQ Favorites: Similar Basics, Different Vibes
The communities said to be favored to become homes to a pair of big, new East Coast bases for Amazon are both riverfront stretches of major metropolitan areas with ample transportation and space for workers.
But there are plenty of differences between New York’s Long Island City and Crystal City in northern Virginia.
Set within eyeshot of the nation’s capital, Crystal City is a thicket of 1980s-era office towers trying to plug into new economic energy after thousands of federal jobs moved elsewhere.
Rapidly growing Long Island City is an old manufacturing area already being reinvented as a hub for 21st-century industry, creativity and urbane living.
Seattle-based Amazon, which set out last year to situate one additional headquarters but now may reportedly open two, has declined to comment on its plans. But people familiar with the talks said this week that Long Island City and Crystal City have emerged as front runners for the “HQ2” project and its total of 50,000 jobs.
A look at two communities said to be at the top of Amazon’s list.
Long Island City
It’s already the fastest-developing neighborhood in the nation’s most populous city, and Amazon could pump up the volume in this buzzy part of Queens.
If chosen, the neighborhood stands to burnish New York City’s reputation as a tech capital. Landing Amazon would also cement Long Island City’s transformation from a faded manufacturing zone to a vibrant, of-the-moment enclave of waterfront skyscrapers, modernized warehouses and artsy-tech ambience across the East River from midtown Manhattan.
“I joke that we’re experiencing explosive growth 30 years in the making,” says Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, a neighborhood development group.
But Long Island City also has been straining to handle its growth.
Days before the potential Amazon news emerged, the city announced a $180 million plan to address Long Island City’s packed schools, street design and a sewage system that groans in heavy rain. But those projects will just catch up with current needs, says area City Councilman Jimmy van Bramer.
“I know that there are a lot of people cheerleading for this, but HQ2 has to work for Queens and the people of Queens. It can’t just be good for Amazon,” says van Bramer, a Democrat.
Once a bustling factory and freight-moving area, Long Island City saw many of its plants and warehouses closed as manufacturing shriveled in New York City.
The neighborhood’s rebirth began in the 1980s, when officials broached redeveloping a swath of the waterfront, while artists were drawn by warehouse spaces, affordable rents and a building that is now the MoMA PS1 museum. Silvercup Studios — where such TV shows as “Sex and the City,” “30 Rock” and “The Sopranos” have been filmed — opened in 1983.
Long Island City gained a new commercial stature, and the start of a high-rise skyline, when the banking giant now called Citi opened an office tower there in 1989. But the area’s growth lately has been driven by residential building.
Some 9,150 new apartments and homes have been built since 2010, more than in any other New York City neighborhood, according to the city Planning Department . Thousands more units are in the works.
New York has striven for nearly a decade to position itself as a tech hotspot.
Venture capitalists poured $5.8 billion into New York-area startups last quarter, more than any other region except the San Francisco area, according to the consulting and accounting firm PwC . Established tech giants, including Google and Facebook, have been expanding their New York footprints.
Still, landing HQ2 would represent “incredible validation of just how far New York has come,” says Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future think tank.
Waiting for a subway, Long Island City community board chairwoman Denise Keehan-Smith could envision Amazon benefiting the neighborhood.
“But I think we have to be careful about it,” she said.
If any place in America can absorb 25,000 Amazon jobs without disruption, it may well be Crystal City, Virginia, where nearly that many jobs have vanished over the last 15 years.
The neighborhood in Arlington County is bounded by the Potomac River and the nation’s capital on one side, by the Pentagon on another and Reagan National Airport on a third.
Despite its prime location and abundant transportation options, the neighborhood has been hit by a massive outflow of jobs. The Patent and Trademark Office began moving more than 7,000 jobs out of Crystal City in 2003. In 2005, the Defense Department announced plans to move roughly 17,000 jobs elsewhere as part of a base realignment.
Arlington County has worked hard to bring in new employers, and had some success. The Public Broadcasting Service moved its headquarters to Crystal City in 2006.
Still, large swaths of the neighborhood remain vacant. Among other challenges, the area has fought to overcome a reputation for outdated architecture.
Crystal City is populated by `70s and `80s-era office buildings. The buildings are connected by a network of tunnels populated with food-court style dining options, hair salons and newsstands. The tunnels leave the ground-level outdoor streetscape sometimes looking empty.
Brookings Institution urban planner Jenny Schuetz suggested the buildings may require an upgrade, or even replacement. But she noted that while people often associate tech companies with converted lofts or state-of-the art workspaces, many big Silicon Valley tech companies actually work out of `80s-era office buildings.
For all the talk about antiquated architecture, people who’ve actually worked in Crystal City appreciate its convenience and its worker-friendly features, including the tunnels.
“I loved it here,” said Christine Gentry of Greenbelt, Maryland, as she ate breakfast in a largely empty food court. She works for the Patent and Trademark Office and preferred the days when her office was in Crystal City.
“Everything is accessible here,” she said. “When it was raining or snowing or sleeting, I never had to go out.”
Perhaps no place better illustrates the vibe of Crystal City than the region’s only revolving restaurant, the Skydome atop the Doubletree Crystal City. Diners enjoy a panoramic view of the D.C. skyline, completing a full rotation every 47 minutes.
Sam Getachew, the hotel’s food and beverage manager, said the restaurant fits the neighborhood’s retro atmosphere.
“It’s huge draw,” Getchew said. “People come for the curiosity of it.”
The only downside, he said, is that “when customers get up to go to the restroom, they don’t know where they are when they come back.”