Competition between salmon farms intensifies in northern Japan

Salmon farming spread so rapidly in Aomori and Iwate prefectures that the fierce competition between brands is sometimes likened to “regional wars” in feudal times.

Japanese consumers previously had to rely on imports mainly from Northern Europe and Chile to find salmon on their tables.

Farmed salmon is now said to be more popular than tuna in conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

Unlike the large-scale agricultural enterprises of large corporations, salmon farming in these areas is often run by local fishers and municipalities.

Among the growing brands are Kohaku Salmon from Iwate Prefecture and the Aoimori brands Kurenai Salmon and Kaikyo Salmon from Aomori Prefecture.

Boasting reduced fat content but strong flavor and slightly sweet taste, Aoimori Kurenai Salmon was developed in a freshwater environment by the Inland Waters Research Division of the Research Center on Industrial Technology of Aomori Prefecture (AITC) in Towada.

AITC has been creating “a cultured variety of salmon unique to Aomori” for about 16 years.

Twenty-five possible breeding combinations existed to create a new variant.

The offspring of a rainbow trout and a Japanese huchen did not taste good, so AITC decided to use a species of rainbow trout that had been bred in Aomori for over 100 years. and the large growth Donaldson rainbow trout as mother and father.

Garlic, a local specialty of Aomori, was initially given as food, but it added too strong an aroma. Instead, apples were mixed into the food, which gave the fish a deeper, milder taste with a slight sweetness.

Aoimori Kurenai Salmon debuted in 2020, selling 5 tons. Shipments reached 12 tonnes in 2021.

The product has been in such demand that Aoimori Kurenai salmon continues to be in short supply in the market.

Japanese consumers may be more familiar with chum salmon, but trout species are included in the same family within the same genus.

Six to seven varieties, such as chum, coho, pink salmon and rainbow trout, are covered in Japan.

Natural salmon is generally not eaten raw due to the risk of parasites. And farmed coho is served cooked in most cases.

But rainbow trout and cherry salmon are farmed to be eaten raw.

Shipments of farmed salmon exceeded the global catch of its natural counterpart 25 years ago.

About 70% of the 300,000 tons of salmon that arrive on the Japanese market each year come from fish farms.

During the 1970s in Japan, coho salmon farming became common in Miyagi Prefecture. Fish was usually served cooked in those days.

Japan Salmon Farm Inc., based in Aomori Prefecture, has introduced elastic-fleshed rainbow trout for the first time in hopes of tapping into the growing demand for farmed salmon that can be eaten raw.

Japan Salmon Farm has successfully mass-produced a rainbow trout that bears the name Aomori Salmon in the market.

Smaller farms operated by local fishermen and municipalities have recently entered the area, giving new impetus to the salmon farming industry in Aomori Prefecture.

Fishermen in Ohatamachi District in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, which faces the Tsugaru Strait, began to switch “from catching to farming” in 1989 to boost salmon farming. Those troubled by poor squid catches formed a group to secure a new source of income.

Slices and other processed products of Kaikyo salmon are seen at Ohatamachi district in Mutsu, Aomori prefecture on Dec. 10. (Takunori Yasuda)

Fry of the Donaldson and rainbow trout breeds are now reared in an offshore pen for approximately six months for delivery.

The choppy waves are believed to create tough flesh and high quality, flavorful fat in the fish.

The enclosure was destroyed by a typhoon and the attack of a Steller sea lion. Fluctuations in water temperature also killed farmed fish.

Despite the setbacks, salmon production topped 100 tonnes and online sales began for consumers.

After the product was introduced as Kaikyo Salmon on a TV show, its sales reached 116 million yen ($1 million) in 2020.

A fisherman checks the growth of Kaikyo salmon in Mutsu, Aomori prefecture, in April 2016. (File photo Asahi Shimbun)

Fresh Kaikyo salmon is only available between April and July, but processed fish products, such as sous-vide slices, sashimi and “chazuke” rice flour seasoning, are also retailed. .

In the coastal areas of Iwate Prefecture, salmon farming has started on a large scale due to the declining catch of natural salmon. In 2020, it was only 2% of the 1996 level.

Unlike Miyagi Prefecture, coho salmon can be farmed and shipped well into August in Iwate Prefecture due to lower water temperatures. Iwate’s agriculture benefits from this strength.

Coho from Iwate Prefecture is currently marketed under a brand name.

In Kuji, where Kohaku salmon is made, in 2019 the municipality’s fishing association launched the cultivation of “Kuji-growing” coho.

A polyphenol-rich food material using the lees of Japanese purple vines – a local specialty – was tested in the program.

In November last year, 340,000 fingerlings were released into a pen in a bid to quadruple Kohaku salmon shipments to 600 tonnes this year.

Elsewhere in Iwate Prefecture, the Miyako and Otsuchi fishermen’s cooperatives have been granted demarcated fishing rights for full-fledged salmon farming efforts.

Iwate University, a seafood producer, and a fisherman’s association in Kamaishi started cherry salmon farming on a trial basis. Agricultural projects are also envisaged in Yamada and Ofunato.

Some locals describe the competition as a “regional war”.

Yutaka Maeda, section director responsible for fish farming technology at AITC’s Inland Waters Research Division, was involved in the development of Aoimori Kurenai Salmon.

He said one of the characteristics of farmed salmon is that farmers can “design farming methods” to make their products stand out from other brands.

“For example, fat quality can change at different water temperatures in agriculture,” Maeda said.

Hiroshi Tsuruoka, head of the agricultural enterprise promotion department of the Nippon Suisan Group, famous for its Nissui food brand, said he has long been involved in salmon farming.

“Salmon demand is relatively stable, and fish has overtaken tuna in popularity in conveyor belt sushi restaurants,” Tsuruoka said. “There is still room to further develop fish farming.”

(This article was written by Kuratoshi Yokoyama, Takunori Yasuda, Masakazu Higashino, a senior writer, and Ayaka Kibi.)

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