Sushi Supply in Jeopardy

The tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo

TOKYO (majirox news) – The chaos in Libya and other countries may risk Japan’s supply of kuro maguro (blue fin tuna), causing a rise in prices. This means that about 16% of total imports from Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia are about to disappear overnight.

Prices will take a big jump, particularly in less expensive sushi restaurants such as conveyor belt sushi restaurants and family restaurants. Higher class restaurants, which use more expensive cuts of kuro maguro, much of which is taken from Japanese waters, won’t feel any effects of the shortage. However, a small luxury may well disappear from Japanese dinner tables for a time.

Libya did not attend the conference of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) at the end of February. In order for the fishing of kuro maguro to take place off the coast of Libya, permission and the appropriation of a quota is required by the ICCAT. Libya’s quota is 902 tons or about 7% of all kuro maguro under the country’s current conditions will be difficult to obtain, according to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF).

Imports of kuro maguro, which is the finest quality of tuna for sushi, totals about 20,000 tons, which is nearly equal to the amount taken by Japanese boats, according to MAFF. Of Japan’s total imports, approximately 18,000 tons come from the Mediterranean Kuro maguro are caught as immature fish and taken alive to fattening pens. When they reach maturity, they are exported to Japan.

ICCAT’s conference was to apportion each country its quotas for this season, which takes place in the Mediterranean from May through the summer, and to approve the fishing plans that were presented.

“It doesn’t matter whether they have sent an inquiry to Libya or not,” said officials at MAFF. “Given the present state of affairs in Libya, the question is whether there is anyone to receive the inquiry, and even so, whether the ICCAT would be willing to accept any reply. There’s a very strong possibility that Libya will be granted no quota at all.”

Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak has fallen, did not attend the conference either. Egypt’s quota is 64 tons. Tunisia, which holds a quota of 1,017 tons, did not attend because of the fall of its government. These situations will make it difficult for fishing off Tunisia as well.

It is less expensive to fatten kuro maguro in holding pens using immature fish caught live by fishing fleets than trying to catch mature fish. Furthermore, the sections of kuro maguro that yield the “toro” cuts of sushi are increased by the feeding regimes in the fattening pens.

Since around 2000, the number of fattening pens has increased under the direction of Japanese trading companies. Exports (of deep frozen fish) are concentrated at year-end to meet the increase in Japan’s demand from the fall and onward.

Inexpensive feeding-pen-raised kuro maguro are primarily used by the revolving sushi type restaurants and by moderately priced chain restaurants.

“This will be a problem for us,” said Kenji Mitobe, as sushi chef at Tsune, an over the counter restaurant in Tokyo.” If we raise the prices we will lose the customers. We will just have to absorb the losses.”

Japan will find out what will happen during the coming Mediterranean blue fin season.

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