Seafood prices in Japan continue to climb due to supply problems and weak yen

Several of Japan’s major fish paste makers raised prices from February and may have to do so again.

Japan’s top fishcake maker, Tokyo-based Kibun Foods, raised prices for its fishcake products and some side dishes by 8% from Feb. 28. The company noted in its annual report that factors negatively affecting domestic earnings were higher than expected, such as rising raw material, transportation, packaging and energy costs.

The country’s second-largest fish paste maker, Niigata City-based Ichimasa Kamaboko, and third-largest maker Sugiyo Co., Ltd. based in Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture, both increased their prices by 5-15% from March 1. The fourth largest manufacturer, Kanesada Co., Ltd. based in Miyoshi City, Aichi Prefecture, raised prices by 8-13% at the same time. And the fifth-largest Fujimitsu, based in the city of Nagato in Yamaguchi prefecture, has taken a slightly different tack – simply adding 100 yen (0.76 USD, 0.71 EUR) to most prices, starting from ‘april.

There are signs that companies need to raise prices again. The price of surimi in April was more than 26% higher than a year ago, amid declining Bering Sea pollock catch quotas in Alaska, an increase in foreign demand and a depreciation of the yen. Nissui, based in Tokyo, gives every month market data on the evolution of imported surimi according to the statistics of the Ministry of Finance. It shows an average price of around 194,000 JPY (1,485 USD, 1,386 EUR) per metric ton in April, compared to around 153,000 JPY (1,171 USD, 1,093 EUR) in the same month of 2021, and 172,000 JPY (USD 1,317, EUR 1,229) in November, when many of the earlier retail price increases were announced.

The prices also reflect the weakness of the yen. From October 2021 to March 2022, the yen traded in a tight range of 113-114 JPY per US dollar. But since the US Federal Reserve announced quantitative tightening, while Japan decided to keep interest rates ultra low, the exchange rate found a new level around 130-131 JPY per US dollar.

Nissui announced on May 28 its intention to increase the prices of its fish paste products from August 1, by 5 to 20% depending on the product, and that of its other frozen foods by 6 to 20%.

Part of the complications stem from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, Russia was a major exporter of sea urchins, sockeye salmon and Alaska pollock roe to Japan. While such imports were not banned and only subject to higher tariffs, Russia’s suspension from the SWIFT international payment system complicated payments.

The result has been lower imports and higher prices for these items. The price of sea urchin roe in small or medium cans nearly doubled at Tokyo’s Toyosu market on June 4, while sockeye salmon from Russia rose 16%. Crab is another big Russian export, but it is out of season and has not been sold at auction.

In addition to falling imports, domestic squid landings are down, in part due to reduced effort as older fishermen retire without successors, so prices have risen. The price of farmed yellowtail flounder is also rising, as the number of fingerlings for the holding pens was low, while feed costs were rising.

A rare bright spot for consumers is that the warmer Sea of ​​Japan water has brought good harvests of skipjack and plaice, which are now being sold at lower prices.

Photo courtesy of mrcmos/Shutterstock

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