TOKYO -- Japan aims to increase exports of its famed fugu, or puffer fish, by creating a standard test nationwide designed to ensure safety in the preparation of the potentially deadly delicacy.
The new license requirements from the health ministry are intended to confirm that those who prepare fugu know how to remove the poisonous parts of the fish. At present, requirements can differ for each local government, and cooks possess varying skill sets and knowledge.
In Tokyo and Yamaguchi Prefecture, applicants currently need a cooking license and two to three years of experience, in addition to passing both written and practical performance tests. Yet some areas of Japan require only that lectures be attended. Because of the vast difference in requirements, licenses are valid only in the designated district.
The health ministry will notify municipalities about the new policy this month. It will roll out license standards and require municipalities that do not meet the standards to offer additional courses.
The new fugu license holders will be permitted to prepare the fish anywhere in Japan. The ministry will evaluate how well municipalities integrate the new policy and publish the results next year.
Japan hopes to lift seafood exports by raising preparation standards for fugu. Exports of fugu are much smaller than those of mainstream seafood like scallops.
"Other countries say that it's easier to import fugu if it is regulated officially," said a representative of the International Fugu Association.
A changing ecosystem for fugu also raises concerns, as the fish migrate north due to global warming. The migration causes different puffer fish species to mate, increasing the number of hybrids. Consumers are more likely to fall ill or die from hybrids because the poisonous parts differ from those of the original species.
The health ministry intends to investigate and report on the state of fugu hybrids to local governments regularly, in addition to strengthening the certification standard.