At Osaka seafood show, Alaska bairdi snow crab competes with opilio

Published on
February 27, 2015

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) tried to teach visitors the difference between the bairdi and opilio species of snow crab at the recent Seafood and Technology Expo Osaka. Japan Trade Manager Akiko Yakata, representing ASMI at the show, said that bairdi have firmer flesh and more umami than opilio. Alaskan processors would like Japanese consumers to differentiate the two, as the rarer bairdi sells at a higher price.

While the species Chionoecetes opilio occurs in both the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, including in Japanese waters, Chionoecetes bairdi (also called “tanner crab”) is restricted to the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Of the two, the bairdi grows larger, reaching 3 to 5 pounds (1.36 to 2.27 kilograms) while opilio are typically in the 1.5 to 2.5 pound (0.68 to 1.13 kg) range. The bairdi also has fuller meat, with a meat yield from a whole crab of about 20 percent compared with 17 percent for opilio. “Succulent sweetness” is phrase often used to describe the taste of bairdi.

In appearance, the bairdi have sharp points on the carapace, while bumps on the opilio are more rounded. The mouthparts of the bairdi also are shaped like an “M”. To complicate matters, hybrids occur naturally, with intermediate features. These are usually classed with bairdi for harvest quota and season purposes.

The National Marine Fisheries Service also displayed at the show, offering statistics on U.S. seafood exports to Japan. Those for 2014 show the United States exported just over a million and a half kilograms of snow crab of both species to Japan, with a value of USD 18.2 million (EUR 16.2 million, JPY 2.2 billion), for an average price of USD 11.63 (EUR 10.24, JPY 1,383) per kilogram.

In Alaska, container-loads of bairdi have been reported as sold for USD 14.33 (EUR 12.75, JPY 1,709.14) per kg for 380 grams and larger, USD 12.12 (EUR 10.78, JPY 1,445.49) for 300 to 380 grams, and USD 11.02 (EUR 9.80, JPY 1,314.36) for 300 grams and under. Generally prices are down for both species on higher quotas and the weaker yen.

There is a shortage of king crab in Japan this year, as tighter certificate of origin requirements here make it harder for poachers of Russian crab to pass customs. As poaching decreases, the number of larger specimens has increased. Wholesale prices in Sapporo, Hokkaido are up 30 to 40 percent, and retail prices are up about 20 percent. As both king and snow crab are commonly used in nabe (hotpot) dishes, sometimes together, there is considerable substitution between them.

As for local production, Tottori Prefecture, a leading snow crab area, reported landings in the two week period beginning 20 January at about 49 metric tons, up 19 percent year-on-year, while prices fell by 18 percent. The hotpot season ends when warmer spring weather arrives, and with it, crab demand falls.

ASMI was also introducing “sujiko” or salmon eggs still in the sack as an alternative for the better known “ikura” in which the eggs are separated. It has a saltier and fishier taste, without the popping of the individual eggs that some people enjoy, but it goes well in rice-balls. Sujiko is popular in Northeast Japan but not well known in the Kansai region, which includes Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. An expected strong sockeye season in Alaska this year should result in a larger than usual amount of eggs to be marketed.

The Seafood and Technology Expo Osaka was held 19 to 20 February. The show is held annually in both Tokyo and Osaka, in conjunction with the Agrifood Expo, a show featuring regional food specialties. The Tokyo show is in August. Attendance totaled 14,956 over the two days, up from 13,860 last year.


Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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