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Japan's sablefish supply and market.


The current Japanese demand for sablefish, Anoplopoma fimbria (also known as black cod), is estimated to be around 30,000 metric tons t per year, and is growing steadily. It is supplied almost entirely by imports. Japan's 1988 sablefish imports totaled 30,500 t, valued at about $158 million, an increase of 7 percent by quantity and 33 percent by value over 1987 imports (Table 1).

The United States is the primary supplier, shipping about 90 percent (27,200 t valued at $140 million) of the 1988 total. Canada, Mexico, Morocco, and the Republic of Korea also supplied small amounts. Japan's purchases of sablefish have increased by over 450 percent since 1983, when the United States began to cut Japanese sablefish catch allocations within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The outlook for 1989 U. S. sablefish exports to Japan is favorable. During the first 6 months of 1989, the United States shipped nearly 16,000 t, valued at $72 million-up 7 percent by quantity but down 10 percent by value, over 1987 imports of 15,000 t, worth $80 million. The lower value may be a result of market oversupply.


Sablefish is a popular and relatively inexpensive fish that is primarily consumed during the winter months in northeastern Japan, especially in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefectures. The southwestern part of Japan is also a potential market. Sablefish competes with species such as rockfish and turbot, which have similar seasons and prices, and it is sometimes substituted for salmon when salmon prices are high.


Nearly the entire U.S. and Canadian sablefish catch is used to supply the Japanese market. The combined catch of the two countries totaled 52,500 t in 1988 (Table 2), with the United States accounting for 48, 000 t (91 percent) and Canada 4,500 t (9 percent. The dressed weight(1) of the combined catch was approximately 34,000 tons. The value of the 1988 U. S. sablefish catch was about $92 million. Cold storage holdings in the United States and Canada at the end of 1988 reportedly totaled only 1,000- 1,500 tons.

The U. S. sablefish catch has more than doubled since 1984. U.S. domestic annual harvest (DAH) allocations within the EEZ have increased steadily since the early 1980's, reflecting the increased growth and efficiency of the U. S. sablefish industry. The United States, however, cut the 1989 DAH by about 5 percent because of concern over potential sablefish stock depletion in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska. Within the Bering Sea, the sablefish allocation was reduced to such an extent that directed fishing was prohibited, and the quota of 2,380 t was to caught only as a by-catch. In the Gulf of Alaska, the Secretary of Commerce implemented a total allowable catch of 26,000 t for 1989, of which 3,600 t was assigned as by-catch for trawlers in other directed groundfish fisheries. The remainder of the quota was for the sablefish hook-and-line fishery. There was no directed trawl fishery for sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989. As a result of these actions, the 1989 sablefish supply was expected to decrease.


The dramatic fall of the U.S. dollar against the yen in recent years has made U.S. sablefish very attractive to Japanese buyers. Consequently, they have imported large quantities at relatively low prices. Tokyo Central Wholesale Market prices for frozen sablefish at the end of August 1989 were 2.67-2.73/lb. for 5-7 and 7-plus lb. fish, 2.42-2.48/lb. for 4-5 lb. fish, $2.13-2.24/lb. for 3-4 lb. fish, and $2.00-2.03/lb. for2-3 lb. fish. These prices were $0.25 to $0.45 below prices for the same period in 1988. The reasons for the lower market prices were not well understood, but may have been a result of oversupply. Japanese sablefish market prices generally depend on the results of the spring and fall fishing seasons off Alaska. Prices usually peak in April, when Japanese inventories are lowest, and fall substantially during the fall chum salmon season. According to the Suisan Keizai Shimbun, a Japanese fishing industry paper, 1988 imports were controlled by a few leading importers who supported the market to prevent prices from falling to the low levels of 1986 and 1987. Because of the market's dependence on imports, there was concern that further fluctuation in the yen/dollar exchange rate would continue to adversely affect sablefish prices in 1989.


The condition of sablefish stocks was in question in mid 1989. Although the results of the 1988 Japanese-United States cooperative longline survey indicated that the sablefish biomass remained stable, the condition of the 1984 year class was uncertain. (Sablefish enter the commercial fishery when they are 4-5 years old.) Consequently, beginning in 1989 overall supply was expected to decline slightly, with higher prices. As the catch ceiling necessary to ensure sablefish stock preservation is not likely to exceed 50,000 t in the near future, the growth potential of Japan's sablefish market is limited. (Source: IFR-89/90, prepared by Paul E. Niemeier, Foreign Fisheries Analysis Branch (F/IA23), NMFS, NOAA Department of Commerce, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910.)

(1) The preferred sablefish product form is headed and gutted. The conversion rate from round weight to headed and gutted weight is about 65 percent.
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Title Annotation:Foreign Fishery Developments
Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Sep 22, 1989
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