Red Tide Situation in Hokkaido and Impact on Uni Supply

We have recently received many inquires about the red tides situation in Hokkaido and how bad it has been. Please read the following articles (we translated) and grasp the update and future forecast for the future supply of Uni. 

Regional Information (Via Hokkaido Branch Office)                                      

The Extent of the Impact of the Worst Ever Red Tide

Red tide damage off the coast of Eastern Hokkaido has directly impacted sea urchin fisheries. According to the latest summary of the prefectural government, the amount of damage the red tide caused the fishing industry is roughly 7.6 billion yen - the worst degree in Japan - of which sea urchins account for about 6,844 million yen. Sea urchin resources in Eastern Hokkaido are secured though aquaculture, but there are areas where mass death of juvenile sea urchins was confirmed during this red tide, leading to reports of declarations such as, "I can’t foresee being able to catch for the next 3 to 4 years" (according to local sources). Expectations for the products from the four northern islands, where the fishing season has begun, are rising, but there are also concerns being expressed such as, "can we cover all the deficits of Eastern Hokkaido?" (Industry sources).

Nemuro and Kushiro in Eastern Hokkaido accounts for about one-third of the Hokkaido’s entire catch of Ezobafununi, which is considered to be a high-class variety. A local source there said, "The amount of available Kelp, which is the food for sea urchins, will also be a concern from next year onward. It will be a double blow for sea urchin aquaculture."

Under these circumstances, sea urchins from the four northern islands will have an increasing presence. In terms of quality, it is not comparable to domestic sea urchins; and as operations have only just started in October, the peak of the harvest will be reached during the peak demand period of the year-end / New Year holidays. According to processing sources, "the price is slightly higher than the previous year,” but according to inbound sources, “At this point, I don’t get the impression that the damage caused by the red tide in Eastern Hokkaido has had a significant impact on the market price of sea urchins from the four northern islands."

However, it seems that there are also concerns about the products from the four northern islands. It has been pointed out that the red tide off the east coast of Hokkaido may have traveled south from Russia via the tide. One of the sources of the Oyashio Current is the Kamchatka Current; in Kamchatka, red tide damage occurred last fall, and mass deaths of sea urchins were confirmed. The path of the Oyashio Current includes the four northern islands. Regarding this year’s products from the four northern islands, we have heard from several industry sources who have said, "Even with the running time subtracted, the yield is lower than usual. In some cases, it is 50% of an average year."

The Russian authorities' stance on fishery resource management is said to be "stricter than Japan" (fishery officials). The sea urchin catch quota is also fixed, and it has been pointed out that "it is unlikely that production will increase just because Japan’s catch is hindered" (importer source).

It is said that in recent years, the sea urchin processing industry in Hokkaido is seeing the rise of more small, independent harbors. It will be interesting to see if these small-scale processors can deliver the necessary amount of raw materials and overcome the peak demand of the year-end period, as well as the New Year holidays.