Short supply dogs Japan’s saury market

Published on
August 16, 2010

Pacific saury, a popular species among Japanese consumers, is in short supply this year. According to the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, the catch as of 7 August totaled only 878 metric tons, versus 6,900 metric tons last year.

Saury, or “sanma,” is a representative autumn food in Japanese cuisine. It is commonly served salted and broiled whole, garnished with grated daikon radish. The flesh is high in DHA and EPA unsaturated fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease.

Juvenile saury migrate to the North Pacific in spring and run back down along the coast of Hokkaido and northern Honshu as adults in late summer and fall. The season usually begins in northern Hokkaido in mid- to late August. As seawater temperatures fall, schools move southward to the Sanriku region of Honshu Island, where Kessanuma port in Miyage Prefecture has the highest annual landings in Japan. The season usually extends through October.

Saury caught in the more northern part of the range have more fat and are thus more flavorful. They are popular fresh, while the leaner fish of the southern part of the range are less perishable when frozen for year-round sale.

At this time of year, fishing is usually underway just east of Russian-occupied Kunashiri Island, but water temperatures of 16 to 17 degrees C there, about 2 degrees higher than normal, have kept the fish north longer. This year, fishing will probably start in earnest in September.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Monday that saury was wholesaling in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market for JPY 2,030 (USD 23.64, EUR 18.47) per kilogram, two-and-a-half times higher than the same time last year, due to the poor catch.

In retail markets, saury usually sell for about JPY 100 each, an easily recognized price point. One saury is typically served per person. Fresh saury have reportedly been prices in some stores for as high as JPY 500 each, with poor sales at that level. However, in a Kobe Co-op supermarket fatty Hokkaido saury could be found at a more reasonable JPY 298 for two.

Other inexpensive fish are also priced higher. In the first week of August, Japanese common squid (also called Pacific flying squid) and sardines went for about double last year’s price.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency estimates 2010 saury stocks in the Northwest Pacific at 2.21 million metric tons, down from 3.51 million metric tons last year. Saury reserves off Japan have been steadily declining, according to the agency. All of the saury sold in Japan is domestically supplied, with some exported to South Korea.

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Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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