Japan’s snow crab season opens with high prices

Published on
November 29, 2016

The first snow crab caught in the Sea of Japan hit Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale market in early November, but quantities were light due to rough seas. The short supply was reflected in higher than normal prices. Wholesale prices at Tsukiji were up 20 percent from a year before.

The average price for live male snow crabs from Hyogo Prefecture was 25,000 yen (USD 234.50, EUR 215.92) per kilogram, while the smaller females ran from 800 to 1,500 yen (USD 7.51 to 14.07, EUR 6.91 to 12.96) each. A single snow crab typically weighs a little under a kilogram, with males significantly larger than females.

At the Osaka Central Wholesale Market, live males from Hyogo Prefecture ran from 20,000 to as high as 80,000 yen (USD 187.52 to 749.92, EUR 172.72 to 690.88) per crab—much higher than the previous year's high price. However, this should decline soon with increased quantities.

Shimane, Tottori and Hyogo prefectures are the areas most renowned for their snow crab fisheries. Much of the catch is either sold live or is served at local traditional Japanese inns, forming the draw for gourmet tours, especially popular from Osaka, which is within a couple of hours by train.

However, an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 on the Richter scale on 21October in Tottori Prefecture resulted in many tourists canceling reservations. Though the inns have cleaned up damage, the local economy may suffer, and the city is trying to drum up more business and let Japan know that it is open for crab-loving tourists.

In a PR stunt reminiscent of the overpricing of the best tuna on the opening day of the Tsukiji tuna auction, a snow crab fetched a record price of JPY 1,300,000 (USD 12,195, EUR 11,224), also on 7 November at the first auction of the year in Tottori, Japan.

The male crab was given the market's highest rank of Itsukiboshi, literally "five shining stars." The rank is based on factors including size, weight and color. The free-spending auction buyer said that he hopes his record bid will help to drum up interest in the area.

Tottori Prefectural Governor, Shinji Hirai appeared at a press conference, along with Mamoru Nakashima, president of Tottori Prefecture Tourism Association, to announce a Welkani Campaign (combining “welcome” with “kani,” Japanese for crab). Those who stay at any Tottori inn listed in the campaign will have a chance to win a free crab by sending in a postcard with a stamp from the inn. There will be 200 winners per month in November and December.

The crabbing season for female snow crabs runs through the end of the year. Male snow crabs can be caught until 20 March.

Other types of crab consumed in Japan include king, horsehair and hanasaki crab (spiny king crab), a species that has recently expanded its range to Norton Sound, Alaska. Japanese television (Mainichi Broadcasting System) warned on 12 November that many other crab species found in Japan are poisonous, most notably the species Zosimus aneus, commonly called the xanthid crab. Their muscles and egg masses contain both saxitoxin (the same poison that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning), and tetrodotoxin (the same poison found in pufferfish).

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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