Trout from Peru splashes into Japanese market

Published on
February 8, 2017

Around the start of this year, “salmon-trout” from Peru appeared for the first time at the Maruyasu Supermarket in Toyonaka City, Osaka, Japan.

Japanese consumers might have easily assumed that the store had mislabeled the usual “salmon-trout” from Chile. It turns out they are farmed in Lake Titicaca, at a high altitude in the Andes Mountains. And the timing seems just right for their introduction to Japan.

“Salmon-trout” is Japanese-English for farmed rainbow trout, though there is a Japanese word – nijimasu – to describe rainbow trout from local rivers. And, perhaps due to Japanese familiarity with the species, farmed rainbow trout has become very popular here. 

Rainbow trout, along with silver (coho) salmon, originally gained traction in Japan and other places back in 2007, after infectious salmon anemia (ISA) wiped out much of the Atlantic salmon in Chile. In response to that crisis and a 2003 research paper, “Relative resistance of Pacific salmon to infectious salmon anaemia virus,” (Rolland and Winton, 2003) that showed that while several species of rainbow trout and Pacific salmon can be carriers of the virus, both are resistant and show no negative symptoms as a result of ISA. 

This ISA resistance led to a diversification in Chile into more silver salmon and ocean-farmed rainbow trout. Japanese consumers have found the trout particularly to their liking, and now prefer it over other salmonid options. The term “salmon-trout” assists in leading Japanese to freely substitute trout for salmon.

But having established this preference, Chile is no longer able to meet Japanese demand. There is now strong demand for trout from China, Russia, Brazil and the U.S.A., where it is also used as a substitute for high-priced Atlantics. China, in particular, has driven recent demand, especially in advance of the recent Chinese New Year. As a result, Japanese buyers are being priced out of the market, leaving an opportunity for the Peruvian product.

Peru has already been exporting trout to other markets. In 2012, Peru's then-First Lady Nadine Heredia launched a campaign under the Peruvian government’s Sierra Exportadora program to promote exports of Andean trout to the U.S. and Europe. At the same time, the growth of trout farming in the lakes and rivers of the Andes has stoked debate about its environmental impact.

In December 2015, the Smithsonian.com website featured an article, “What are North American Trout Doing in Lake Titicaca?” The article decried the introduction of trout – an invasive species – to the lake as “misguided intentions” and noted that the trout that have been introduced are now outcompeting native endangered killifish.

Conversely, SeafoodSource reported on 7 July that Peruvian Andean Trout S.A.C. had become the first in the world to offer four-star status Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) trout under a program of the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

There are also jealousies and competitions between local artisanal pen farmers and larger international projects. In June 2015, President Ollanta Humala canceled a trout farming license that had been granted to Inversiones Mitano earlier that year following protests from Puno region locals, who feared both competition and damage to the reed-bed environment of the lake.

In another example, on 15 December, the Peruvian website Perupesquero reported that some residents of La Florida village in Huamachuco closed the water supply to a hatchery, killing about 10,000 fry, as they did not want to share their village water supply with the hatchery project, which is operated by a neighboring village.

Still, the product seems poised for growth in Japan.

The Maruyasu chain, based in Takatsuki City, Osaka Prefecture, now sells “salmon-trout” for a reasonable JPY 198 (USD 1.72, EUR 1.61) per 100 grams, or 526 yen (USD 4.57, EUR 4.27) for three fillet slices (half that if shoppers were willing to wait until 6 p.m., when most Japanese supermarkets mark down their unsold perishables). 

The Peruvian Association of Exporters (ADEX) reported that for the January-July period of 2015, the country's trout exports grew 48.3 percent, to JPY 1.3 billion (USD 10.9 million, EUR 10.2 million). Peru produces about 40,000 metric tons of trout annually, for both domestic consumption and export.

One company that entered the Japanese market in 2016 is Pisces Peru Trout. The company, which already exported to Canada, the U.S., Norway, Sweden and France, had 2014 sales of JPY 391 million (USD 3.4 million, EUR 3.1 million) on a volume of 390 metric tons, and announced expected sales of JPY 575 million (USD 5 million, EUR 4.6 million) on a volume of 550 MT in 2015.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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