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Japan’s Home-grown Salmon Wants a Bigger Slice of the Market



These are the brand-new "Miyagi salmons" from north-east of Japan



Salmon has become a favorite at conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Japan. The advanced freezing technology has made it possible to kill the parasites that once made raw salmon a taboo food.


Japan’s booming commercial salmon market is supported in part by large-volume imports of aquafarm-cultivated salmon. But now, regions in Japan vie to produce their own brands of high-quality salmon. The overwhelming popularity of the succulent fish has also given rise to numerous salmon, trout, and other salmonid fish farms throughout Japan.



Joint Project with JR West


On April 27, Tokyo and Osaka sushi shops started serving a new brand of cherry salmon (Oncorhynchus masou) named Beppin Sakura Masu Urara. This was the first shipment of the new species produced in a joint project undertaken by the West Japan Railway Company and the city of Imizu in Toyama Prefecture.


The eggs are first nurtured in a tank of river underflow water. After they hatch and the young fish are deemed ready to adapt to sea water, they are moved to another tank filled with sea water pumped from 100 meters deep in Toyama Bay.


The joint project started in 2015. Because the fish are raised inland in tanks rather than directly in a river or the sea, they do not have the typically pungent odor. And because they are fed a balanced diet and maintained in a controlled environment, they are less likely to be infested by parasites and therefore can be eaten raw.


A fish shop in Osaka’s Kita Ward was the first to begin trial sales of the new Urara salmon. Noriyuki Obata, a worker at the Nakanoshima Festival Plaza branch of Uogashi Nihon Ichi, said: “The fish look good. Their flesh is firm and chewy, just right. Perfect for sushi.”


Izumi city and other areas that have started farming Urara salmon hope to be making annual shipments of 40,000 fish by 2018.


Sushi made by the new Urara salmon


A Conveyor Belt Sushi Favorite


For the past six years, salmon has consistently been the top favorite served at conveyor belt sushi shops. In a survey of conveyor belt sushi shop customers conducted last March by Maruha Nichiro Corporation, one of Japan’s leading fishery companies, 46.3 percent of respondents ranked salmon as they their favorite sushi. Women, in particular, preferred salmon over red tuna meat (34.2 percent) and yellowtail (30.2 percent).


It is this kind of popularity that is driving the expansion of the fish farming business. A major share of the salmon being sold in Japan today is imported from such places as Norway, but domestic salmon farming is picking up. Mitsui & Company has announced that it will become actively involved in domestic salmon and trout inland farming ventures. Kindai University, a private university in the Osaka area, succeeded in 2016 in developing a new species called the Kindai cherry salmon.



Fresh is Best


The “branding” of domestically farmed salmon and trout is continuing apace.


The Aichi Prefecture aquafarming fisheries cooperative, working with other groups, spent a year developing the new Kinuhime salmon species, which it introduced into domestic markets in 2011 and for which sales are now on track. Other domestic brands that are selling well include Shinshu salmon from Nagano Prefecture, Yashio Masu trout from Tochigi Prefecture, and Hiroshima salmon from Hiroshima Prefecture.


Keitaro Kato, a professor in the Fisheries Department of Kindai University’s Faculty of Agriculture, notes that salmon farming is booming in Japan partly because salmon can be bred even in areas where water temperature is low. Domestically grown salmon are favored over imports because consumers perceive them to be safer and fresher.



Note on Salmon


Both salmon and trout are salmonids with few distinguishing features to set them apart even though they have a wide variety of Japanese names. Salmon tends to be given preference over trout, leading in some cases to a change of the Japanese name, such as from “Beni trout” to “Beni salmon.”


In English, however, a clear distinction is made between the two types of fish. Salmon navigate both rivers and oceans while trout are exclusively freshwater fish. The term “salmon trout” refers to rainbow trout cultivated in marine aquafarms. Roughly 70 percent of salmon and trout sold in world markets today are from aquafarms, 80 percent of which are located in Norway and Chile. In 2016, Japan imported 220,000 tons of aquafarm salmon and trout.


Mitsuhisa Kawase is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun Osaka Headquater



(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)


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