In Japan, salmon prices rise post-quake

Published on
May 22, 2011

The wholesale price of salmon has increased steadily in Japan since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

At Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale market, frozen dressed Chilean silver (coho) salmon for salting is selling at JPY 670 to 700 per kilogram, up 15 percent from pre-quake levels. Salted salmon sells at JPY 780 to 830, or 20 percent up.

Chile is the main source of salmon in the Japanese market, and 78,000 metric tons were imported in from October 2010 to April 2011. Since 2009, salmon has been mainly imported from Chile and Russia, but trading companies were unable to contract additional volume to meet a recent spike in demand.

Salmon is more popular now because it is easy to salt and refrigerate for a long period. Unsalted refrigerated fish spoils within a couple of days, while salted refrigerated salmon lasts around four days. Rolling power outages in Tokyo due to closures of damaged nuclear and thermal power plants lasted from mid-March to mid-April, and may resume when summer weather increases air-conditioner use, pushing demand higher than generation capacity. Thus, food spoilage remains a concern.

Worries that the tsunami-hit Sanriku region will not be able to supply salmon this summer have added to price speculation. The region previously supplied 20,000 metric tons annually, but this is expected to drop drastically due to vessel and infrastructure damage.

Grilled salted salmon is a common breakfast dish in Japan. The retail price has not yet risen, as there is resistance to price hikes, due to a recognizable price point. Typically, supermarkets sell two half-cut steaks sell for JPY 256. Stores may choose to cut the slices thinner rather than raise the price.

Snow (opilio) crab prices have also hit an all-time high, with importers paying USD 5.40 per pound in Alaska and USD 5.75 per pound in Labrador Canada (both up USD 2 from last year). Low inventories in the United States are keeping demand strong.

However, even as wholesale prices remain high, several Osaka-area supermarkets offered the same items this week at a reasonable JPY 498 for a pack of five slices of salmon and JPY 780 for a single boiled snow crab. It is not clear whether the stores have made direct purchases at reasonable prices or if they are simply offering loss-leaders.

Other seafood, especially shrimp, is now expensive because of producer reaction to the weak U.S. dollar. The lower dollar has resulted in lower prices paid to producers, since the United States is a major shrimp importer. With their profits squeezed, producers have raised prices in their domestic currency. Vietnamese producers were also draining and cleaning ponds in April, in preparation for restocking, just as Japanese orders were especially strong, driving prices higher.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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