Tuna prices in Japan fall on weak holiday demand
By Chris Loew, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Osaka, Japan
31 December, 2009 -
Prices of frozen bigeye tuna at Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale fish market, which had increased over the summer, fell 13 percent, to JPY 700 (USD 7.55, EUR 5.25) per kilogram, in the last week of December.
Prices are usually higher in December, with strong holiday demand, but this year the trend has reversed and year-end consumption of luxury foods slumped due to the depressed economy.
In October and November, bigeye tuna supplies were 10 to 20 percent lower than in the same period last year, but the volume offered at Tsukiji increased in the second week of December, driving prices lower. Sellers are trying to move tuna out of cold storage before demand subsides again in January and February. So as not to drive down the prices at the auction too much, more tuna is now being offered through private contract sales.
Last week, frozen yellowfin tuna was 14 percent cheaper than at the beginning of the month, at JPY 600 (USD 6.47, EUR 4.50) per kilogram, while frozen bluefin tuna prices fell to JPY 3,000 (USD 32.36, EUR 22.51) per kilogram, down 10 to 20 percent from a year ago.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in November reduced the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna quota by nearly 40 percent for 2010, to 13,500 metric tons.
However, Japan already held large inventories of frozen bluefin, buffering the impact on prices. In September, 24,600 metric tons of bluefin was held in cold storage in Japan.
Retail prices for bluefin have followed wholesale prices down, with some retail outlets selling Atlantic bluefin for JPY 880 to 980 per 100 grams, and southern bluefin for JPY 598 to 698 per 100 grams.
Bigeye tuna, on the other hand, has held fairly steady at retail, at around JPY 398 per 100 grams, so the price gap between bigeye and bluefin is closing. Yellowfin tuna was marked as low as JPY 158 per 100 grams.
There is a shift in consumer preference away from the fatty toro belly loin of bluefin tuna to red meat tuna, due to lower prices for the latter. This may be encouraged by supermarket chains offering bigeye or yellowfin tuna in place of bluefin to keep prices down in anticipation of the quota cuts.
Not all luxury items are off the menu. Year-end sales of Russian and Alaska king crab are brisk. Crab is usually served as a nabe dish, cooked in an earthenware pot at the table, as a main dish. Tuna, in contrast, is usually a side dish and is more easily left out.
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