Japan's seafood prices continue to climb on supply issues and weak yen

A seafood market in Hokkaido, Japan.

Several of Japan’s leading fishpaste product manufacturers raised prices beginning in February, and might have to do so again.

Japan’s top fishcake maker, Tokyo-based Kibun Foods, raised the prices of its fishpaste products and some side dish products by 8 percent across the board starting from 28 February. The company noted in its annual report that factors negatively affecting domestic profits were higher than expected, such as increases in raw material, transportation, packaging, and energy costs.

The country’s next-largest fishpaste product maker, Ichimasa Kamaboko based in Niigata City, and third-ranked maker Sugiyo Co., Ltd. based in Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture, both raised prices from 5 to 15 percent starting 1 March. The fourth-largest maker, Kanesada Co., Ltd. based in Miyoshi City, Aichi Prefecture, hiked prices 8 to 13 percent at the same time. And fifth-largest Fujimitsu, based in the city of Nagato in Yamaguchi Prefecture, took a slightly different tactic – simply adding 100 yen (USD 0.76, EUR 0.71) to most prices, starting from April.

Signs are pointing to the companies needing to raise prices again. Tokyo-based Nissui's monthly market data on the trend of imported surimi, based on Ministry of Finance statistics, indicates the average price of surimi in April was around JPY 460 (USD 3.43, EUR 3.25) per kilogram, which is about 10 percent higher than it was a year ago, and half again more than its recent low of around JPY 305 (USD 2.28, EUR 2.16) per kilogram in February of 2021. It also represents an increase from the last time price hikes were announced in November, when surmi was selling at around JPY 380 (USD 2.84, EUR 2.69) perce kilogram. The causes cited for the price increases are lower Bering Sea Alaska pollock catch quotas, increased overseas demand, and a depreciating yen.

The prices also reflect the weaker yen. From October of 2021 to March of 2022, the yen traded in a tight range of JPY 113 to 114 per U.S. dollar. But since the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank announced quantitative tightening, while Japan decided to keep ultra-low interest rates, the exchange rate has found a new level at around JPY 130 to 131 per U.S. dollar.

Nissui announced on 28 May that it plans to increase the prices of its fishpaste products from 1 August, by 5 to 20 percent, depending on the product, and that of its other frozen foods from 6 to 20 percent.

Part of the complications stem from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, Russia was a major exporter of sea urchins, sockeye salmon, and Alaska pollock eggs to Japan. While these imports have not been banned and only subjected to higher tariffs, the suspension of Russia from the SWIFT international payment system has complicated payments.

The result has been a decline in imports and price hikes for these items. Sea urchin roe in small or medium boxes was nearly doubled in price at Tokyo-based Toyosu Market on 4 June, while sockeye from Russia was up 16 percent. Another big Russian export is crab, but it is not in season and was not sold at the auction.

In addition to lower imports, domestic landings of squid are down, partially due to a reduction in effort as elderly fishermen retire without successors, so prices have risen. Farmed yellowtail are also increasing in price, as the number of fingerlings for stocking pens was low, while feed costs were up.

A rare bright spot for consumers is that warmer water in the Sea of Japan has brought good harvests of bonito and flounder, which are now sold at lower prices.  

Photo courtesy of mrcmos/Shutterstock


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