Canadian bluefin tuna exporter seeking customers outside Japan amid market shift

One Tuna fishermen pose with a large Atlantic bluefin tuna they landed.

As the global market for high-value tuna undergoes a significant shift, a Canada-based bluefin tuna exporter to broaden it sales beyond Japan.

Jason Thompkins, the owner of North Lake, Prince Edward Island, Canada-based One Tuna, told SeafoodSource during the Foodex Japan expo he hoped to make new contacts outside of Japan. Foodex Japan is the largest annual food and beverage trade show in Asia, offering exhibitors access not only to Japan’s food market but to many other Asian markets as well. Over its four-day run from 7 to 10 March, the show attracted 73,789 total visitors to the Tokyo Big Sight convention center.

One Tuna's Prince Edward Island vessels currently have a two-fish limit on bluefin. Because the vessels have such a low limit, they treat the fish very carefully to get them on board without bruising. After catching them by rod and reel, they tow them behind the boat for a calming period to lower the lactic acid levels that have risen from the struggle. They avoid the use of a harpoon, and get them on board gently and kill the fish with the ikejime method – the Japanese method of bleeding a fish and removing nerves from the spine.  

Thompkins stressed both the sustainability of the Atlantic bluefin fishery and the care he gives to the quality of the fish he sells. He said the stock is carefully managed and is rising, and bycatch is low – points that he said are especially important for eco-conscious European customers. 

Thompkins said the Japanese market-distribution system, in which tuna goes through public auctions and then through multiple layers of distributors, is very traditional and somewhat outdated. He said that while he has a good relationship with his Osaka-based distributor, branching out to new markets is a chance for him to go direct to buyers. 

Thompkins has seen firsthand the changes in the raw, fresh bluefin tuna market, which has expanded beyond its previous narrow focus on Japan to worldwide distribution.

“It used to be that in Japan going out for sushi and ordering bluefin was a status thing. That was a big deal, but now young people in Japan are shifting to more Western diets,” Thompkins said. “At the same time, there’s a Japanese food boom going on in the rest of the world. It’s in vogue.”

Following a Covid-related suppression of Japan's demand for bluefin, Thompkins has ... 

Photo courtesy of One Tuna

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