Short supply and high prices for octopus in Japan

Published on
October 10, 2017

Short supply and high prices for octopus in Japan were confirmed by exhibitors at the 19th Japan International Seafood and Technology Expo at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center.

Among the 1,300 booths at the show in August, several featured octopus, many in original forms.

A boiled leg of the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) was displayed by the Akkeshi Fishery Cooperative, based in Hokkaido. The company’s wholesale price list showed this item at JPY 1,600 (USD 14.44, EUR 12.09) per kilogram. The cooperative also offers direct retail sales via its website shop, where it offers the same single whole leg, weighing about 1.7 kilograms, for JPY 2,380 (USD 21.48, 21.48 EUR), excluding tax and shipping. Cut pieces of about 300 grams are JPY 600 to 700 (5.41 to 6.32 USD, 4.53 to 5.29 EUR). The octopus season in Hokkaido runs October through February.

State-owned Indonesian firm Perinus began in shipping octopus to Japan in May 2017. Thirty metric tons of frozen octopus was shipped to Ibaraki Prefecture from Makassar, South Sulawesi. The shipment was the result of a cooperation agreement between Indonesia and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Under this agreement, assistance in learning the processing method was provided and a marketing channel established through Ajirushi Company, a private company selected by JICA for the project. Perinus plans to export 1,000 metric tons (MT) of frozen octopus to Japan this year. The company is offering its product raw and boiled in the flower shape favored by Japanese buyers.

Yemen may be a new source of octopus for someone willing to arrange third-country further processing, according to Salman Ali Shami, general manager of Pearl Fisheries Co., based in Hadhramout, Republic of Yemen, and who also serves as secretary general of Sana’a-based Yemeni Seafood Exporters Association (YSEA). Shami was seeking importers, not only among Japanese, but also among other countries. He said that the Yemeni fishery had been mainly targeting lobster using cages, but that octopuses were occasionally taken in the cages, or by hook-and- line fishing. As this bycatch was found to be profitable, the fishermen are now targeting octopus. The national government, in order to encourage better quality, has distributed clay pots. Octopuses seek refuge in the pots and can be brought up without damage. The processing done in Yemen is minimal – gutting, sorting, and freezing only. Boiling is left to the buyer. Size grades are 1-2, 2-3 and 3-4 kilograms each. He estimates production capacity at 2,000 to 3,000 metric tons per year.

Oceans Korea, a processor based in Seoul, South Korea, was fortunate to have bought a large stock of octopus at 20 to 30 percent below current prices. The firm is using it in Korea to make a wide variety of processed products, including salad pieces, slices, and on skewers.

A Vietnamese processor said supply is short as the local waters are overfished for octopus, partly due to Chinese poaching. However, another Vietnamese vendor said that he had adequate supply.

Japanese processors displayed unique products. “Iwadako” (literally rock octopus) imported from China and Vietnam was offered charcoal-grilled by Osaka-based Sankyu Shokuhi, Inc. Iwadako is reported to be cheaper and but less springy than common octopus.

Sawada Shokuhin, headquartered in Kobe, Japan, offered “tako-tamago” (egg octopus) which is a baby octopus with a cooked quail egg inside the head and cooked in sauce. One octopus can be eaten in a bite, and the contrasting flavor – along with the product’s originality – make it an interesting appetizer.

In 2016, Japan imported about 17,000 MT from Morocco, a little over 12,000 MT from Mauritania, nearly 8,000 MT from China, and 3,000 MT from Vietnam. Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Peru each contributed under 1,000 MT.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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