The Yomiuri ShimbunThe nation’s catch of sanma, a fish also known as saury, dropped 30 percent in 2017 from the previous year to the lowest level in half a century and the second-lowest level since statistics began, it has been learned.
Sanma has become a rarity on dining tables because of its high market price and the fact that many are undersized. Stocks of frozen sanma — mainly available outside the autumn high season — are also on the decline, resulting in seafood companies’ recent decision to raise prices on canned sanma products.
The poor catches may continue into this year and could leave a lasting impact.
According to Japan’s stick-held dip net sanma fisheries cooperative association — which accounts for the majority of the nation’s catch — catches in 2017 totaled about 77,000 tons.
The volume in 2017 was the second-lowest on record — after 1969’s record low of 63,000 tons — even if combined with sanma caught by other methods such as fixed nets.
What is causing the poor catches remains unclear. Low catches until 2016 were attributed to high water temperatures in waters near Japan, but such conditions were absent in 2017.
Some people involved in the fisheries industry point to the possible effects of Taiwan and Chinese sanma fishing boats operating in the high seas in the northern Pacific Ocean.
The conveyor-belt sushi chain Gatten Zushi had difficulty procuring sanma from September to November 2017, and replaced them with sardines on the blueback fish menu.
Stocks of frozen sanma have also shrunk as a result of poor catches for three years in a row.
According to the Fisheries Agency, average yearly frozen sanma stocks declined from about 28,000 tons as of the end of October 2014 to about 17,000 tons as of the end of October 2017.
Seafood companies raised prices for canned sanma products this month. Maruha Nichiro Corp. increased suggested pre-tax retail prices by ¥50 to ¥80 on eight of its canned products, while Kyokuyo Co. raised them by ¥40 to ¥60 on five of its canned products.