Singapore rule change boosting Japan's pufferfish exports

A plate of pufferfish sashimi
A plate of pufferfish sashimi | Photo courtesy of Titisak Wangkasem/Shutterstock
2 Min

Japanese exports of pufferfish to Singapore have been on the rise following a rule change – but the product is still tightly restricted to markets like the U.S.

Singapore revised its requirements for imported pufferfish in August 2022 to allow the muscles, skin, fins, and milt of farmed pufferfish to be imported. Previously, only muscle meat of the fish could be imported.

Pufferfish imports are banned by most countries because wild pufferfish contain a potent poison that can cause numbness, paralysis, and death. Farmed pufferfish, conversely, are toxin-free because pufferfish do not produce the toxin themselves; instead, they accumulate it from the food they eat in the wild.

Therefore, Japan has been promoting the safety of its farmed pufferfish to global markets. 

The main export markets are Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia, and even with Singapore, there are several restrictions around pufferfish purchases. 

For example, Japan is the only export market approved to sell pufferfish to the Southeast Asian nation, the pufferfish imported into the country must have been prepared in Singapore-accredited establishments by expert chefs, each import consignment must come with a health certificate from the Japanese authorities, and Singapore officials also test the imported pufferfish as part of its food surveillance program.

Other markets like Russia allow pufferfish imports, but it currently bans all seafood imports from Japan, mainly due to the release of cooling water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. 

Progress in getting markets like the U.S. to loosen import restrictions has been slow.

To attempt to convince hesitant markets like the U.S., Japan has tried to enhance the products’ credentials and has standardized pufferfish licenses across the country, instead of allowing the prefectures to set regulations as it did previously.

“Pufferfish processors got HACCP certifications last year, and it cost a lot, but still only one company in the U.S. is permitted to import it only twice a year through John F. Kennedy international Airport,” Yukihiro Furukawa, the president of the International Pufferfish Association, said at the 2024 Osaka Seafood Show.

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