Partial recovery for Japanese seafood exports

Published on
September 10, 2011

Exports of some Japanese seafood items have recovered after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, while others still languish.

The Ministry of Finance has released July customs data showing albacore tuna export volume, at 5,362 metric tons, was 2.5 times that of the same month last year, and sardine shipments, at 2,508 metric tons, had increased 90-fold. Both were mainly bound for Thailand. Mackerel was up 9 percent.

The large increase in sardines was due to strong harvests in Japanese waters. For the six-month period of January through July the hike was less dramatic, at 15 times the 2010 level.

Most of the items showing an increase were for processing and were destined for Southeast Asia. Meeting testing requirements for such exports has become easier, as a large increase in the number of radiation testing devices has reduced the wait for laboratory results from a week to a day.

Overall, Japan’s seafood imports and exports in July were both below those of 2010, according to customs clearance statistics released by the Finance Ministry on 30 August. Although the yen’s buying power increased, with an average exchange rate of 80.43 to the U.S. dollar during July, rising international commodity prices and the poor economy suppressed import demand.

Imports of wakame seaweed grew four-fold, to 1,170 metric tons as Korean and Chinese product replaced that from the Sanriku coast of Japan’s stricken northeast Honshu Island. Imports of fishmeal fell, reflecting damage to aquaculture operations that use it in their feed.

According to the Japan Fish Traders Association, Japan’s seafood exports in July totaled 32,726 metric tons, down 16.8 percent from a year ago. In value, shipments totaled JPY 12.3 billion yen, down 12.8 percent.

Exports of both salmon and Pacific saury, Japan’s highest volume export items, were off sharply.

The largest saury port, Kesennuma, was heavily damaged by the tsunami, as were other ports in the main saury fishing area, and stocks in frozen storage portside were also spoiled. To satisfy domestic needs, the Japanese government allocated additional quota to allow more imports. Now, as some local production comes in, domestic prices are depressed by the imports.

Exports of fall chum salmon to China fell sharply in July, as buyers held off for the start of the new season. In Hokkaido, the major salmon prefecture, fisheries officials will soon host buyer delegations from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Consumer demand for sushi and sashimi items has not fully recovered in China and Korea, where the governments are also taking a strict approach to testing. But a salesman for Ehime-based yellowtail exporter Rumi Japan said U.S. demand is gradually returning to previous levels.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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