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Fruit Fish – Saviour of Japanese Fishing Industry

2018.10.05

Sushi and Sashimi are synonymous with Japanese cuisine, and fresh fish is essential to the everyday diet.  But there has been a significant change in consumer behaviour in the past thirty years, and the fishing industry is looking to recapture interest with new ideas.

 

30% Decrease in Consumption

In the past 25 years, Japanese consumption of fish produce decreased by 30 per cent.  The change in diet to more westernised cuisine and the new focus on the convenience, ease of handling and cooking lead to a more diverse choice, leaning heavily towards meat consumption.

Many young people under 30 years old do not like the fishy smell, and cannot be bothered to sift through small bones that come with whole grilled fish. 

Japan is surrounded by oceans with numerous rivers and lakes, and so fish is still a natural choice as the primary protein source. Industry, therefore – both fishing and fish farming – is trying new ways to attract young consumers.

Branding Locally Grown Fish

Across Uwajima bay, Ehime prefecture, many fish farms are holding a large stock of yellowtail and seabream.  Here, they feed the fish with feed mixed with citrus oil, extracted from the peel of oranges used for juice production, for which Ehime prefecture is well-known.

Across Japan, there are Yuzu Yellowtail of Kochi prefecture, Kabosu Fluke of Oita prefecture, and Olive Hamachi of Kagawa prefecture.  The flesh of these Fruit Fish has a hint of citrus flavour and a reduced oily fish smell.  The anti-oxidants from extra ingredients added to the feeds improved the look and the colour of flesh, extended the shelf life, and in some cases enhanced the Umami content. 

Uwajima’s products are branded as Mikan (Orange in Japanese) Seabream and Mikan Yellowtail and sold about USD 8 million in 2014.  Fruit fish sushi has sold twice as much as the standard sushi in one of the sushi chain stores in western Japan.

These fruit fish brands were initially only available on yellowtails. The main aim was to prevent discolouration of the flesh.  The trial (started in 2004) not only solved the problem, but it has enhanced the flavour, adding extra value to the farmed fish. 

Building on the success of relatively small yellowtails and seabreams, many producers, including in Uwajima, developed Fruit Salmon.

Capturing the New Market with New Ideas

One fish that saw a hike in the popularity is salmon, despite the overall decrease in fish consumption in the past 30 years, from 310,000 tonnes in 1988 to 420,000 tonnes in 2014.  It has been named the most favoured sushi topping for seven years running.  It is not a traditional choice for sashimi and sushi, as wild salmons caught around Japan is not suitable for serving uncooked.  So, the beneficiary of this trend has been importers, not the domestic fishing/farming industry.

For the Japanese fishing industry to benefit from this increased interest in salmon as a sushi ingredient, it needed to look at the farming option, just like the main sources, Norway and Chile. 

Salmon farming was increasing in northern Japan, but the Great East Earth in 2011 affected the industry, and production has spread across towards the west.

Tottori prefecture’s fishing industry association was approached by Yamagata prefecture.  Their salmon fries lost their market, which was usually the east coast of northern Japan, devastated by Tsunami.  But the beach of Tottori is prone to rough weather during the winter, the months during which salmon mature.  They turned to all in-land salmon farming, using the abundant and pure underground water produced through the eco-system around Mount Daisen.  The low exposure to infections spread by birds, controlled feeding and pure water eliminated the bacteria in the flesh, making it suitable for sushi and the sashimi market.

Branded as Tottori Gran Salmon, this is less oily and suitable for the palate of health-conscious young consumers.  Producers aim to spread this locally grown value-added salmon to high-end restaurants across Japan.

Fruit Salmon for the Future Generation

The Uwajima Project was one of the receivers of fry from the North in the aftermath of the earthquake.  The home of Mikan Yellowtail naturally developed Mikan Salmon.  It has a fresh fruity fragrance, reducing the oily aftertaste.  Its flesh is also a brighter pink, because of the orange extract’s natural colour.  Of course, with controlled feeding and protection from diseases, it is suitable for sushi. 

Fishing industry associations across Japan are hopeful that these branded fish will bring back customers and become standard items in the future, providing stability to local business and attracting youth to come back to the beautiful seaside of the western country.

 

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