Hiroshima Prefecture boasts of being Japan’s No. 1 producer of oysters, which have traditionally only been available in the colder months. Now oystermen are working to turn them into a summer delicacy, too.

Fishermen and fisheries industry officials along with the municipality of Etajima are trying to substantially increase the production of summer oysters by establishing a group to promote sales of oysters and other fisheries products.

They raised summer oysters artificially and marketed about 10 kg of them in summer 2005 and about 20 kg last summer with a technique developed by the Fisheries Ocean Technology Center of the Technology Research Institute of Hiroshima Prefecture.

The output so far is small compared with the more than 5,000 tons of oysters shipped from Etajima in the cold months. But fishermen say cultivated summer oysters are just as delicious as those available in winter.

Hiroshima Prefecture supplies about 60 percent of the oysters consumed in the cold months in Japan.

According to the group in Etajima, oysters produced in Hiroshima and marketed in the cold months are Pacific oysters grown from eggs spawned in the beginning of summer.

Producers say that since oysters run out of energy after laying eggs in summer and tend to have little meat, they are not as tasty at that stage. People therefore have to wait until fall to enjoy oysters with more meat.

“Iwagaki” rock oysters have been cultivated during the summer in limited areas facing the Sea of Japan, but their catches are small compared with Pacific oysters and iwagaki thus rarely make an appearance on the nation’s dining tables.

Under the cultivation technique developed by the technology center, fertilized eggs are preserved in caffeine liquid. The soaking works to slow down development of the growing oysters’ reproductive organs and keeps them from laying eggs, helping enhance their nutritional value in the process of reaching maturity.

The method also makes them meatier than normal oysters.

The Etajima group ships summer oysters in shells to individual purchasers but hopes to market stripped oysters to specialized restaurants in the future.

“We’d like to use (summer oysters) if they’re available in large enough volume and at a reasonable price,” an employee of a restaurant specializing in oysters in the city of Hiroshima said.

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