Post-quake, yellowtail traders make do

Published on
June 29, 2011

Columbia, Md.-based FDA Imports helps Japanese food exporters that would like to have their products exempted from the import alert issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in response to radiation releases at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, damaged by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

Company founder Benjamin England said, “My advice to companies that would like to come off an import alert would be to provide documentation that they have processing controls in place to ensure they are not shipping contaminated product.” England suggested three ways that Japanese exporters can seek exemption: Using a secure-source supply, in-house testing of products or documentation proving to the FDA that they are compliant. 

Morimatsu Suisan Reito Co. Ltd. is a major processor and exporter of yellowtail, Japan’s top exported farmed fish by value. The company, which promotes its products under the brand “Rumi Japan,” is not an FDA Imports customer and has not petitioned the FDA. 

Katsuhiko Chinzei, who works in the company’s trading department, said that there have been any additional documentation requirements for their products from the government or customers in the United States. But they have pro-actively adopted pre-shipment testing by Japan Food Research Laboratories, which issues a certificate of inspection for radioactivity. The inspection costs JPY 30,000, or USD 375, per inspection, per item. 

“There have been no delays in entry to the U.S. If there were, we would probably lose our business,” said Chinzei; 90 percent of Rumi’s export sales are to the United States. 

In America, consumer demand is the bigger problem. “Our sales have dropped, but gradually it has resumed, little by little,” he said. April sales were down 20 to 30 percent on last year, and about 50 percent from their pre-quake sales forecast for this year. 

As for other areas, the Kingdom of Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, requires the certificate of analysis. The company makes two air shipments to Bahrain per week. 

They have had no problems with China. They closed their Shanghai office in February, before the quake, due to lower-than-anticipated sales. They still have business with Hong Kong, and there has been no additional documentation requirement, though the quantity is down from three air shipments per week to one. 

The European Union has requested a certificate of origin showing that the product is not from the affected area. (The company’s fish are farmed near Ehime, on Shikoku Island.) This certificate is issued by the Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. 

Malaysia and Singapore have been the biggest problems for Rumi, as they hold and test the product, which can cause a delay of three to four days, critical time for a limited-shelf-life product like fresh fish, though not a problem for frozen product. They continue to sell fresh product there, but in reduced quantity. 

Rumi’s overall exports are 80 percent fresh and 20 percent frozen. Though the company has fresh yellowtail available year-round, most fresh demand is from December to March, when the fish are the fattiest and most flavorful.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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