May 24, 2007

Half of Japan's fish species at low levels


Almost half of the 85 fish species identified for fishing in Japan are at low levels, according to an evaluation by the country's fisheries agency, a USDA report said.

Of these, ten Japanese fish species facing seriously low levels have been identified and the Japanese government has said reduced catches are needed for those species to conserve resources. 

Decreased supplies and strong demand for fish in Japan will likely create opportunities for imports of fish from other countries, according to the report, which was posted in March.

There are 85 kinds of fish species targeted for fishing in the Japanese coast of which 40 were identified as facing low resource levels. Only 17 were found to have high stock levels. However, even for species at higher levels, future shortages and price increases cannot be ruled out. 

Some of the species at low levels include sardine, Pollock, mackerel, deep-sea smelt, squid and flounder.

The Fisheries Agency's evaluation has determined that reduced catches are needed for those species in order to conserve resources.

The evaluation provided an estimate of the maximum limit of fish catch acceptable for each fish species that would adequately preserve resources. 

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for four species currently exceeds acceptable limits, the evaluation revealed. These species include chub mackerel, Pollock, and spotlined sardine.

Although Japan may reduce TAC allowed for certain species, strong demand for these items is not likely to decrease and restoring fish resources levels will take time, creating opportunities for imports to fill production gaps. 

Sardine, a staple of the Japanese diet has recently experienced higher prices as supplies tightened. 

The US currently exports sardine to Japan, with volumes reachign 12,000 tonnes, valued at US$8.24 million, last year.

Other species the US exports to Japan include Atka mackerel, flounder and squid from Alaska and California.

US squid export to Japan fell by half to 2,700 tonnes in 2006 while squid export to China rose 39 percent to 25,000 tonnes. However, this has to take into account that part of the shipment was sent to China for processing and re-exported to Japan.

Although the fish shortage in Japan presents an opportunity, US products must also compete with fish from China, Korea, Russia and New Zealand which are cheaper than US products. Fish from China, especially, are the cheapest and production methods were similar to that from the US.

The largest fish export from the US to Japan is surimi, a multi-species processed fish product that fetched US$263 million last year.

The main fish used in surimi is Pollock, one of the species identified by the Fisheries Agency as facing low stocks. 

However, surimi exports to Japan fell 12 percent in 2006 as US exports have shifted to Europe where higher prices are being paid for Pollock fillet.


For the full USDA report, please click here