Japanese bluefin tuna market facing unexpectedly sluggish demand


Demand for bluefin tuna caught in the Tsugaru Strait in northeastern Japan, including the usually popular Oma brand, has been unexpectedly sluggish this year, posing a headache for wholesale dealers at Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market.

This year, most bluefin tuna caught from the strait have been small and with less belly fat. In many cases, these small tuna have failed to find buyers at the wholesale market, with bigger, fatty overseas rivals, including those from the U.S., attracting attention instead.

More Tsugaru Strait bluefin tuna have been brought to the market than usual this season. Since seasonal fishing started there in mid-July, some 600 bluefin tuna have been shipped to the market, up about eightfold from a year before.

But most are small, weighing around 30 kilograms per fish. There are only a few large tuna weighing over 100 kg. Such fish are known for their high quality.

“We’re facing an unexpected situation this year,” an intermediate wholesaler said.

In addition, this year’s catches from the Tsugaru Strait “have little belly fat, and their red part is not vivid enough,” the wholesaler said.

They are being traded at around ¥2,000 per kg, one-fifth the price level seen late last year, when many high-quality tuna were caught.

Fishermen in the strait have faced increasing competition from overseas rivals, including 150-kg giant bluefin from Boston and fatty southern bluefin caught off the coast of Australia and New Zealand.

There have been good catches of these overseas tuna in recent years and the Toyosu market has seen imports account for as much as 70 percent of all tuna on many days since July. Some imported tuna are traded at over ¥10,000 per kg.

Still, fine sushi restaurants in Tokyo are sticking to the well-known Oma brand and pinning hopes on a recovery of high-quality tuna catches in the Tsugaru Strait toward the demand season starting in autumn.

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