The prices of imported seafood, including bluefin tuna and octopus, are soaring across the board in Japan.
Industry observers believe that the upturn has been prompted by tight international supply-demand situation caused by expanding demand for seafood in newly emerging countries such as China as well as the declining fishery resources, coupled with the weakening the Japanese currency in the exchange market.
Bluefin tuna, for example, staged an upsurge of about 20% in yen-denominated prices at producing places.
For octopus there are moves among Japanese traders to refrain from buying in fear of sustaining losses.
Market observers foresee that the rise in imported prices is likely to affect the wholesale seafood prices in Japan from April and afterwards.
The yen-denominated imported prices of Mediterranean bluefin tunas, such as those from Spain, now fetch around Y3,000 per kilo, which was about 20% higher over a year ago.
This represented a drastic increase for March, the month typically with slow demand.
The price hike is primarily ascribed to decreased supply from the Mediterranean Sea.
An official of a major Japanese trading firm observes that last year they were able to absorb the cost increase on the strength of the yen.
But the benefits of the strong yen appreciation have now disappeared, and the yen's upsurge now constitutes a factor for price increase, he said.
Demand for seafood is steadily growing in newly emerging countries, such as China.
According to an industry estimate, consumption of tunas (on the basis of sashimi) in China in 2011 totaled 10,000 tons, up 67% from 2007.
Similarly, consumption in Korea expanded 33% to 20,000 tons during the same period, with that in Taiwan, up 60% to 8,000 tons--showing intensifying competition over seafood in the international markets.
As for frozen octopus mainly produced in western Africa, price negotiations for trading in March have been protracted.
Producers in Mauritania presented $11,900 per ton to Japanese traders, which was a jump of 16% from the same period of the previous year.
The decline in octopus stock in the region has been conspicuous, with imported prices staying in a high zone.
A Japanese trading house official says it is quite probable that not a few traders will refrain from buying African octopus this year because the prices presented are too high.
With regard to pollock surimi, the price talks in Alaska for production in spring season (January-April, 2012) are almost over.
The benchmark high-graded products (FA grade from factoryship) reportedly stand at around Y 385 per kilo, which is 15%, or about Y 50, higher than last autumn products (June-October 2011). The price rise forebodes inevitable upturn of wholesale prices in Japan in April and afterwards.
Regarding frozen shrimp, however, lower prices are anticipated prior to the spring landing season.
But a specialized seafood trading house sees that the margin of price fall would be narrowed because of the yen's uptrend.