Japan eyes boost in Atlantic salmon production
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Japan eyes boost in Atlantic salmon production

Does it mean the appearance of a new Atlantic salmon producer capable of reshaping market?

Japan eyes boost in Atlantic salmon production

Atlantic salmon is not native to Japan and its history in the seafood-oriented nation is intertwined with its culinary evolution. 

Despite its non-native status, Atlantic salmon has gained culinary prominence for its versatility in dishes such as sushi and sashimi and due to its rich taste, ample Omega-3 content and firm texture.

Norway, partially Scotland and Chile are countries that have successfully exploited this situation, supplying the bulk of Atlantic salmon to Japan.

According to the customs data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance, the country’s imports of fresh Atlantic salmon from Norway in 2021 amounted to 13.3 million kilograms, valued at JPY 14.2 billion (USD 123 million, or EUR 113 million). It accounts for about 20 percent of the Japanese salmon market, and close to 90 percent of the fresh Atlantic salmon is Norwegian.

It should be noted that salmon volumes sold in Japan have been fairly flat in recent years due to a declining population and stagnant wages. In addition, the market was heavily impacted by Japan’s intensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, despite flatting market of salmons, the market for Atlantic salmon in Japan has shown positive growth and robustness. And although Japan's typically high salmon prices have decreased somewhat by the end of 2023 and early 2024, according to the Statistics Bureau of Japan, they remain at high and attractive levels. 

Big ambitions

The demand for Atlantic salmon in Japanese national cuisine and the attractiveness of the salmon market have spurred the rapid development of salmon farming reflecting Japan’s growing ambition to become a leading producer of Atlantic salmon. 

Here are just few brief examples that demonstrate the seriousness of these intentions.

Japan's first commercial-scale Atlantic salmon producer, Proximar Seafood, has launched country’s first land-based Atlantic salmon farm at the foot of Mount Fuji in Oyama, as stated on the company’s website. 

The facility will daily deliver fresh and locally produced Atlantic salmon to the Japanese market throughout the year. Last December, Proximar Seafood successfully transferred its first fish from the hatchery department to the post-smolt facility at its recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) plant. With an annual production capacity of 5,300 metric tons of head-on salmon (HOG), the first harvest is expected in the third quarter of 2024. From 2022, Proximar has a long-term purchase agreement with its Japanese sales and distribution partner Marubeni Corporation for all its produced volumes.

The Japanese aquaculture company, Soul of Japan, has secured a huge 33 billion yen loan (£165m) to develop and build a RAS salmon facility in the country, Fish Farmer Magazine reported. Soul of Japan (SOJ) said the RAS facility, currently under construction, will be Asia’s largest land-based salmon farm. It will stretch over 135,000 square meters and have a capacity to produce 10,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon.

Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi is to go into the land-based salmon farming business in its home country, according to Fish Farmer Magazine. Mitsubishi, which employs 80,000 people worldwide, is already the owner of Cermaq, which is one of Norway’s largest salmon farming businesses and also operates in Chile and Canada. It is teaming up with Maruha Nichiro, Japan’s largest seafood company, to set up a new aquaculture operation.

The facility, called ATLAND Corporation, will launch in October on Japan's west coast near the city of Nagano and is expected to be operational by 2025, with an initial modest production capacity of 2,500 metric tons of farmed Atlantic salmon. A joint statement from the two companies said: “This project is expected to help develop a sustainable and stable land-based production system, efficient digital-tech-based operations, local production for local consumption, and progress in decarburization.”

We could go on with similar examples, but it is worth noting that Japan passed amendments to its law called the Fisheries Reform Law. The new legislation is aimed to encourage the development of aquaculture in the country and contribute to the development of technology for this sector.

In particular, the amendments allow fish farmers to use previously underutilized areas that were reserved for local fish cooperatives, highlighting the importance of aquaculture development in the country.

Time will show

Will Japan become the new leader in salmon farming given the rapid development of this sector in the country? If so, how might this affect the global Atlantic salmon market?

It's hard to say for sure now. However, it is clear that Japan has many advantages in place that will help it become a strong player in the global Atlantic salmon market.

Advanced Japanese technologies in a such sophisticated field as aquaculture are one of them.

New gadgets for aquaculture were presented at the Japan International Seafood and Technology Show and at the Tokyo Seafood Sustainability Symposium. Smart feeders and buoys controlled from smart phones, drones for sampling seawater have become part of the arsenal of technical tools on Japanese farms that help fish farmers reduce production costs and possible losses from natural disasters.

Focusing on land-based RAS for Atlantic salmon farming, located close to potential consumers, also gives Japanese farmers a significant advantage over Norwegian salmon producers, who currently face logistical challenges.

For example, Norwegian Atlantic salmon giant Mowi had to redirect its supplies to Japan. Due to the closure of Russian airspace, the company ships farmed salmon via Dubai in the United Arab Emirates or Doha in Qatar, wh ere the cargo is transferred to another plane to continue on to Japan. The new route has already led to increased logistics costs.

When discussing the development of Atlantic salmon farming in Japan trying to forecast its possible impact on the global salmon market, we should take into account another factor that may play at hand.

According to recent Japanese government figures, domestic demand for marine products will decline in the upcoming decades, and aquaculture production would shrink if it remains dependent on domestic demand.

Does it open up new opportunities for Atlantic salmon exports from Japan?

Time will show.

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