Pricing volatility in Japan’s seafood market

Published on
October 19, 2011

In Aomori Prefecture, the mackerel catch has been disappointing, and there is less overall supply nationwide. In the city of Hachinohe, the Federation of North Pacific District Purse Seine Co-operative Associations of Japan said mackerel hauls are running about 20 percent striped and 80 percent spotted.

Supermarkets are responding by switching to the cheaper spotted mackerel. Wholesale prices for spotted are JPY 250 to JPY 300 per kilogram, up 20 percent year from a year ago. The retail supermarket price for spotted is JPY 300 to JPY 450 each, up 20 percent, while striped is JPY 480 to JPY 580 per fish, up 20 to 30 percent.

Disaster damage to net-making facilities in northeast Japan following the 11 March tsunami left sardine fishermen short of equipment this year. Due to lack of nets, fewer sardines were caught, leaving the bait barges in northeast Japanese ports with nothing to sell. In addition, due to a lack of live sardines as bait, bonito pole-and-line tuna fishing boats were unable to fish and stayed in port. Bonito is popular in Japan dried, fermented and shaved into flakes (katsuobushi) or seared on the outside while raw on the inside (tataki).

The harvest season for Hiroshima oysters has begun, and it appears to be a good year. Last year’s overly warm weather slowed oyster growth, but this year conditions were favorable.

Hiroshima moved from second to first place in Japanese oyster production when Miyagi Prefecture was hit by the tsunami. The floats and lines on which oyster are grown in Miyagi were tangled, sunk or carried away.

As for shrimp, flooding in Thailand has lifted the export offer price. Japan’s Nikkei Shimbun reports vannamei (Pacific whites) 31/40-count per kilogram for November delivery was up 4 percent, from USD 7.90 before the flood to USD 8.20 to USD 8.30 per kilogram.

One seafood item that is cheap in Japan is Pacific saury (sanma). The Japanese government allowed liberal imports of saury following the disaster, since much of the nation’s frozen stock was washed from dockside cold-storage facilities in the tsunami.

Now, as the Japanese harvest proceeds, there is too much imported product on the market, depressing prices. Saury, which usually has a well-defined price point of about JPY 100 per fish, can be found at JPY 90. The peak of the saury season was on 18 October.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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