September 8, 2010


High yen and low supply to slow Japanese fish exports



Japanese seafood exports are expected to suffer as the strong yen makes product more expensive for overseas buyers, but for some products, short supply is the bigger problem.


The Japanese yen traded around 84.22 to the US dollar on Friday (Sep 3), up slightly after dropping below 84 for a 15-year low last week. The prospect of a double-dip recession has led investors to buy the yen as a safe-haven currency.


Japan exports Pacific saury (sanma) and chum salmon (akizake) to other Asian counties, mainly China, but the migrations of both fish have been delayed by the warming of ocean waters off northeast Japan, leaving the domestic markets seriously short of both species.


Mackerel is another high volume export. According to Trade Statistic of Japan, Japan's frozen mackerel export for July 2010 was 6,015 tonnes. About 40% went to Egypt (2,412 tonnes) followed by Thailand (701 tonnes) and China (553 tonnes). The July volume was up 53% from June, when exports were made up largely of small-sized low-value mackerel destined for Indonesia.


At that time, when the yen was trading in the low 90s against the dollar, buyers in Southeast Asian countries were already voicing disappointment with the strong yen.


Apax Co. Ltd., a seafood exporter located in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, reported that spotted mackerel (saba) caught off the Sanriku coast of northeast Japan and sold at auction in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, on September 1 drew a high price of JPY150 (US$1.78) per kilogramme for large sizes. Demand was from fillet processors for the Tokyo market.


Wholesale trading prices in August for large Japanese scallops (hotate) rose year-on-year as the yield has been poor for Aomori and Hokkaido Prefecture scallops. In this case, exports are squeezing out domestic buyers.


There have been increased inquiries from the US due to production cuts in China. According to reports, the price rise is not about to end and there is concern that high prices will lead to a decline in Japanese consumption.


On the import side, the stronger yen should allow Japanese importers to better compete with Europe for whitefish supply, used for fillets and surimi. The yen has moved from 127.76 to the euro on April 4 to 106.28 on August 24.


The EU is the second largest importer of surimi blocks after Japan, mostly from the US and Chile. France, Spain and Lithuania are the main destination markets for surimi seafood.