Supply, demand depressed at Tsukiji

Published on
March 31, 2011

Both supply and demand have fallen steeply at Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale fish market since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. Last week’s average daily trading volume was down 23 percent from the typical mid-March level.

Species of seafood from the Sanriku and Tohoku areas of northwest Honshu Island are in short supply. Fishing boats, oyster and seaweed lines suspended from floats, and seafood processing factories were damaged. Japan’s Fisheries Agency said the tsunami also damaged over 6,000 fishing boats and 100 fishing ports.

Miyage and Iwate prefectures together previously supplied 80 percent of the nation’s wakame seaweed. Naruto seaweed from Awaji Island in Osaka Bay has been sold out in stores as buyers seek substitutes. Korean and Chinese wakame are also being imported. Korean seaweed has been promoted in Japan in recent years, and this seems to be an opportunity for it to be more widely distributed. It is considered to be of good quality, while Chinese product is cheaper.

Miyage and Iwate also supply about 30 percent of Japan’s oysters. Japanese television has shown tangles of oyster lines ashore or being recovered from underwater. Three years will be needed from starting new oysters from spat until harvest, but there are many alternative suppliers, such as along the Japan Sea, and in Mie and Hiroshima prefectures. Other products of the affected areas are bonito tuna, salmon, surf clams, saury and mackerel. Mackerel volumes were off 30 percent at Tsukiji.

Logistics problems and blackouts are also causing problems. Even if fish can be caught in northeast Japan, the roads to take them to market are damaged, gasoline is in short supply and traffic in some areas is restricted to relief workers.

On the demand side, Tokyo Electric Power Company’s three to four hour rolling blackouts have made consumers wary of buying fresh fish, while sales of dried horse mackerel, which do not require refrigeration, have soared.

Restaurants have been dealt a double blow. The blackouts have cut their hours of operation, while companies and schools have scaled down celebrations. The school year in Japan ends in late March and begins in early April, and company transfers also take effect with the change of fiscal year. This year, graduation and school entrance ceremonies, and goodbye and welcome parties for colleagues, have been canceled or toned down, with fewer expensive items like tuna on the menu.

The blackouts are expected to continue through the summer, while fisheries infrastructure may take three years to rebuild. Thus, there may be a window during which supply gaps are filled by increased imports.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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