AKASHI, HYOGO PREF. – Historically low octopus catches off the city of Akashi, in Hyogo Prefecture, this year are affecting shops that sell Akashiyaki dumplings.
Akashiyaki, a specialty of the prefecture, is made by mixing diced pieces of locally caught octopuses with beaten eggs and baking it in a special pan with semi-spherical holes. It looks similar to takoyaki (octopus dumplings), which originated in the capital of the neighboring prefecture of Osaka. But unlike takoyaki, Akashiyaki is served with dashi broth.
The common octopus, which lives in the Akashi Strait where it is known as Akashi octopus, is often characterized by moderately firm meat, which is said to be tastier than that of other octopuses.
In 2016, Akashiyaki, which usually sold at around ¥500 for 10 pieces, won the first prize in the B-1 Grand Prix contest of B-class local cuisine across the country.
Akashiyaki shops generally use frozen octopuses that are caught in summer. Akashi octopus catches this season were more than 30 percent below that caught in a normal year, said an official of the Akashi Municipal Government.
Sea temperatures last winter were 2 to 3 degrees lower than usual. This may have resulted in the poor catches, an expert at Hyogo’s Fisheries Technology Institute said.
“So far, we’ve managed avoid raising prices, as we want customers to enjoy cheap Akashiyaki,” said Toshimune Koshi, 43, an Akashiyaki shop owner who also leads a group to promote the local specialty.
Koshi is concerned that octopus stocks at Akashiyaki shops are likely to be low during next year’s Golden Week holiday period from late April to early May.
In response to the poor catches, a group comprising members of local fishery cooperatives has released about 440 kilograms of octopus hatchlings into the sea and have introduced a closed harvesting season.
The Akashi Municipal Government, meanwhile, is soliciting funds under the furusato nozei (hometown tax donation) system, aiming to cover the costs of placing octopus pots as spawning locations. It has so far received a total of 200 donations, reaching 30 percent of its target, and the drive will continue until March.
“We need to make various efforts, including informing many people of Akashi’s food culture,” Koshi said.
Besides Akashi octopuses, catches of the common octopus off Miyagi Prefecture also fell sharply this year. Because of this, consumers nationwide are buying octopus meat from different parts of the country ahead of the New Year’s holidays due to soaring prices of imports.
Demand for octopuses is rising globally, even in the United States, where people used to shun them as a “devil fish,” a wholesaler in Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market said.
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