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Japan Trends

Storied Tokyo market handling a lot less fish these days

Poor catches, aging facilities and changing tastes all take a toll

Volume handled at the Tsukiji fish market sank to the lowest in statistics going back to 1967.

TOKYO -- Marine products handled at the Tsukiji fish market here have hit a record low for a 14th straight year, with volume falling 6% in 2016.

Volume totaled 409,823 tons, according to figures compiled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government -- the lowest in statistics going back to 1967. The tally was down 49.7% from the high set in 1987.

The market's woes are blamed on poor catches of Japanese common squid and Pacific saury, both typically handled in large volumes.

Frozen squid slumped 23%. Japanese common squid harvests at major ports nationwide fell by half in 2016, according to the Japan Fisheries Information Service Center. The Hokkaido and Tohoku regions both suffered poor harvests, and changing water temperatures could be having an effect. Other types of squid were also in short supply.

Saury volume dropped 15%. Catches were reportedly down 2% following a decline in 2015 as well.

Sales value also hit the lowest level in three years at 429.2 billion yen ($3.73 billion). Unit prices rose as poor harvests tightened supply and demand, keeping value from falling as much as volume.

Structural factors also contributed to the decline in volume. In fiscal 2013, 54% of seafood passed through wholesale markets, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The figure declined about 16 points over two decades.

Aging facilities cast a shadow. Tsukiji is an outdoor facility, making temperature management difficult. "We cannot guarantee product quality at Tsukiji during the summer, so we are looking at moving our purchase location away from Tsukiji," a retailer said.

Consumers are eating less fish, too, further contributing to the downtrend.

(Nikkei)

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