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Salmon War: Why is an Energy Giant Diving into Land-Based Aquaculture?

In the northern prefecture of Fukuoka, a spectrum of industries are venturing into land-based salmon farming. Competition is developing into a "salmon war."



Yoshiki Mitsuhata, who operates an aquaculture facility at Kyushu Electric Power's power station in Buzen City, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Provided by Kyushu Electric Power Company)

A "salmon war" has erupted between different industries in Fukuoka Prefecture. Kyushu Electric Power (Kyuden) began selling salmon raised in land-based fish farms in the autumn of 2023. Elsewhere, local television network RKB Mainichi Holdings is set to complete the construction of its aquaculture plant this summer. A cross-industry battle is unfolding as various industries foray into land-based aquaculture across the region. Kyuden and RKB are vying to dominate Fukuoka, the largest market in Kyushu.

Yoshiki Mitsuhata is the Deputy Manager of Kyuden Overseas and Innovation Group. Kyuden is the first company to successfully bring the Mirai Salmon brand, salmon grown through land-based aquaculture, to the market. 

Since October 2023, Kyuden has been shipping this salmon to local supermarkets and conveyor belt sushi restaurants. The company has declared war on its competitors. 

"Our biggest rival is RKB," Mitsuhata says. Posters displayed within the company headquarters advertising Mirai Salmon indicate the efforts Kyuden is putting into its promotion campaign. 

Kyuden announced its entry into the land-based aquaculture of salmon in April 2021. Mitsuhata volunteered for the company's KYUDEN i-PROJECT, which began in January 2017 and aimed to develop new businesses. This project was the inspiration for Kyuden's aquaculture program. 

Mirai Salmon (Provided by Kyushu Electric Power Company)

An Industry Breakthrough

Originally from Nagasaki Prefecture, Mitsuhata's family was involved in fishery. With this background and his previous position in Kyuden's communications department, Mitsuhata believed he could revamp the industry. He wanted to bring the digital thinking he had developed in the communications department to fishery.

Once Kyuden approved the project, the company conducted market research and studied aquaculture methods to chart a path to commercialization. 

In January 2021, Kyuden established a joint venture with the marine products company Nichimo. Then, in May 2023, Kyuden opened a plant on the unused land of Kyuden's power station in Buzen City, Fukuoka. The plant has an annual shipping capacity of 300 metric tons. Kyuden has eight fish cultivation tanks but is considering expanding production capacity.


Mirai Salmon's selling point is its balance of lean and fatty meat, which makes for an exquisite taste. The unique feed and water treatment technology Kyuden developed was instrumental in producing this flavor. Although this salmon is primarily sold in Fukuoka Prefecture, Mitsuhata has ambitions for expansion. "I would like to deliver fresh salmon nationwide eventually," he shares. Leveraging Fukuoka's geographical advantage could also help us export to other Asian countries."

Creating New Jobs

Following in the footsteps of Kyuden is local television network RKB Mainichi Holdings. RKB has acquired approximately 18,000 square meters (193,750 square feet) of land facing the Genkai Sea in Munakata City, Fukuoka. The company is building an approximately 5,000-square-meter (53,820-square-feet) aquaculture facility and aims to complete construction by this summer. Utilizing the area's abundant groundwater, RKB's plan is to produce 500 metric tons of salmon annually.

In addition, the company established a wholly owned subsidiary, Munakata Ras, in Munakata. At the helm is President Hirokazu Tobo, a seasoned TV professional with over a decade of experience in TV journalism and production. Unlike Kyuden, RKB's business model does not encompass retail from aquaculture. Instead, it involves collaboration with Munakata City, local fisheries cooperatives, and businesses for sales and processing.

Salmon raised in an aquaculture plant of the same size as the one being constructed by RKB Mainichi Holdings. (Provided by RKB Mainichi Holdings)

Tobo's interest in such an unrelated business was sparked by the heavy rainfall in northern Kyushu in July 2017. Although the disaster-stricken area is recovering and rebuilding, a lack of local job opportunities means the region will decline. Tobo personally sensed this as he covered the disaster. He felt that "creating jobs in the region is also the responsibility of a local television station." This prompted him to consider branching out into a different business field.

Salmon and Persimmon

As RKB continued reporting on the disaster, Tobo grappled with a sense of frustration about what he could do to help. Then, one day, he had a revelation. It happened when he was at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant with his daughter. 

As he watched her enjoying some salmon, the color of the salmon reminded him of persimmon. He suddenly recalled interviewing a persimmon farmer who had been affected by the disaster. The farmer was working hard toward recovering his business. 

"That's when I realized the answer is salmon," he reveals. From there, with his TV producer's mindset, the idea snowballed and was completed in 2018, a year after the heavy rainfall.

However, at first, the idea was largely ignored within the company. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic became a turning point. The company began seeking new businesses in anticipation of the post-COVID era. Yet, questions arose about how a television station would fare in land-based aquaculture. Despite facing stern opposition from higher-ups, Tobo meticulously persuaded them. Refusing to back down, he asked them, "Why wouldn't we want to do this?"

An aquaculture facility similar to one being developed by RKB Mainichi Holdings in Munakata City, Fukuoka. (Provided by NESIC Land Aquaculture)

Food Security

In the commercialization process, RKB collaborated with NESIC Land Aquaculture (Nishikatsura, Yamanashi Prefecture). NESIC is a subsidiary of NEC Networks & System Integration Corporation based in Minato-ku, Tokyo. Using ICT and digital technology, RKB aims to achieve cutting-edge land-based aquaculture. 

The company explored the possibility of commercialization in disaster-stricken areas of northern Kyushu, such as Asakura City in Fukuoka Prefecture. Unfortunately, they were unable to find a suitable location in their initial search. After visiting more than 100 locations in 27 municipalities, they arrived at Munakata City.

An aquaculture plant similar to one being constructed by RKB Mainichi Holdings in Munakata City, Fukuoka. The company plans to introduce cutting-edge ICT technology including artificial intelligence. (Provided by NESIC Land Aquaculture)

While Kyuden considers RKB a rival, Tobo views Kyuden "more as allies than competitors." Tobo's vision is not limited to Kyushu. He hopes to find friends in land-based aquaculture throughout Japan. By doing so, Tobo aspires to promote local industry and expand the supply network for safe and secure salmon. This process will allow the expertise RKB has developed to continue to thrive.

"Innovation is born from persistence in words and actions," says Tobo with a shy smile. His land-based aquaculture project, which started as disaster relief, is finally on the verge of becoming a reality after several years. With the increase in the global population and diversification of food, there is intense competition for high-quality seafood worldwide. Amid growing concerns about food security, Fukuoka's "salmon war" might contribute to a solution.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Koya Chida, The Sankei Shimbun

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