Looking to fill an oyster shortage

Published on
August 14, 2011

Photos of tsunami damage to fishing ports and vessels in northeast Japan were displayed at last month’s Japan International Seafood & Technology Expo by several fishery associations. Combined with the absence of exhibitors from the area, they lent a poignant mood to the show.

One of the missing products was oysters from Miyage Prefecture. The oysters, which are grown suspended on lines attached to floats, were carried away or buried in sediment by the rushing tide. The prefecture had been the largest producer in Japan, but is now struggling to restart the industry, and has been unable to obtain sufficient seed.

But several other suppliers were benefitting from the unmet demand.

Miyage’s decline has moved Hiroshima Prefecture into the top producer spot. Sales Manager Kenichiro Inoue of the prefecture’s fishery cooperative association said that prices have risen about 15 percent, but the harvest has been poor, as overly warm ocean water slowed growth.

Hiroshima oysters are usually eaten cooked. The most popular dishes are kakinabe (a miso flavored oyster hotpot) and kakifurai (oysters breaded with panko and deep-fried). Thus, the oysters are usually sold for the HRI market as meats only, bagged and frozen. Additionally, the association displayed a “tube pack” of chilled oysters in a tray with water, and frozen oyster gratin on a halfshell.

Importer/distributor, Maple Foods, of Tokyo, was offering frozen half-shell Pacific oysters from Taylor Shellfish Co. of Shelton, Wash. The small size (7.5 to 10 centimeters) were offered for Tokyo warehouse pickup at JPY 68 per piece, and the medium (10.3 to 12.7 centimeters) at JPY 83.

Maple deals mostly in processed seafood products from Vietnam, but has also sold Taylor products for approximately 10 years, though it did not carry them last year due to unavailability of product.

“We’ve just informed our customers that we have the product available again, so we don’t have any sales yet,” said salesman Katsunori Takizawa.

Taylor President Jeff Pearson said he expects increased demand this fall when seed oysters set out in Miyagi Prefecture would normally begin coming to market size. The extremely low US dollar value against the yen also provides a significant opportunity to export oysters to the Japanese market through Maple Foods. And the company is expecting plentiful supplies from its sites around the state’s numerous inlets.

“As most of our farmed oysters originated in Japan nearly a century ago, the product is very similar to oysters previously harvested by Japanese farmers and familiar to the Japanese palate,” he said.

Incheon, Korea-based company Hosan Co. Ltd was also offering oyster in frozen blocks and IQF. Hosan is an exporter of Korean grocery items, specializing in mixed container loads.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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