Alternatives to Atlantic salmon promoted in Japan

Published on
March 28, 2010

At the recent FOODEX trade show in Japan, cold-smoked salmon was offered by two companies. While most lox sold in Japan is made from Atlantic salmon, often Norwegian, both of these companies were offering other species.

Marutoh Marine of Ishinomaki City, Miyage Prefecture, a subsidiary of Tokai Denpun, displayed domestically farmed coho, or silver, salmon lox, branded as "Beer Rich Salmon."

Yeast from a Kirin brewery is incorporated into the feed, and the company claims that this is healthy both for the fish and consumers.

The company introduced smoked salmon this year, though it has sold raw salmon in various forms for 20 years, about 1,400 metric tons per year on average. The salmon pin bones are removed by hand, despite that it is rather expensive to do this labor-intensive work in Japan. In addition to the Japanese-farmed coho, the company imports and sells Norge's Aurora brand of Norwegian Atlantic salmon.

Grant Rosewarne, president of New Zealand King Salmon Co. Ltd., was promoting king salmon, together with the company's distributor in Japan, Shinpoh Corp. In Japan, the company is pushing its Southern Ocean brand salmon slices in three styles: gravlax, smoked and marinated. The company's biggest brand, Regal, is dryer with a heavier smoke taste and is deemed less appropriate for the Japanese, who like a moister texture and lighter taste.

King salmon was introduced to New Zealand as fertilized ova between 1900 and 1906. King, or chinook, is the only salmon species in New Zealand's oceans. Because the farmed stock has been drawn from these runs established so long ago, New Zealand has avoided introducing both sea lice and infectious salmon anemia.

However, non-uniform growth is a problem with kings, and scientists have not been able to create genetically improved strains for faster growth.

"Some grow to 6 kilograms in the same time that others only grow to 4 kilograms, and the small ones have eaten the same amount of feed as the large," said Rosewarne. The conversion rate for kings is about 1:8, while selective breeding of Atlantics has achieved rates as low as 1:1.

The company sells about half of its production domestically and exports about 1,000 metric tons each to Australia, the United States and Japan. The United States favors fish harvested at 6 kilograms, while elsewhere 4 kilograms is preferred.

Rosewarne said it is hard to convince consumers in Japan to pay more for kings, as many consumers are unaware of differences among species. The company emphasizes that king, being high in fat, has the highest level of omega-3 fatty acid among salmon species, at 24 percent, compared to 16 to 17 percent for Atlantics.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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