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Japan's sea cucumber harvest and market.


Japan purchased 78 metric tons t, valued at about $1.4 minion, of sea cucumber or beche-de-mer commodities in 1988 and lands about 7,100t (Table 1). The United States, the second largest supplier to Japan's sea cucumber market, exported 22 t, valued at about 285,000 (Tables 2, 3). Japan's major source of sea cucumbers is Korea (28 t, worth $890,000).


Fresh sea cucumber,known as "namako," is consumed cured with vinegar in Japan. Boiled and dried sea cucumber or "iriko" is an essential ingredient for Chinese cuisine. Fermented viscera of seacucumber,known as "konowata,"is considered a delicacy in Japan. Although the consumption of fresh sea cucumber at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo appears to be stable at about 700-800 t per year, dried sea cucumber for the Chinese food market is said to have decreased drastically in the recent years. According to a major Chinese food wholesaler in Tokyo, the firm's sales of dried sea cucumber decreased two-thirds in 5 years to about 3 t a year. The decrease has been attributed to the unattractive appearance of live sea cucumbers to Japan's younger generations.


Common Japanese sea cucumber species are manamako," Stichopus japonicus; baika-namako, " Thelenota ananas; "oki-namako," Parastichopus nigripunctatus, and "kinko," Cucumaria frondosa japonica. "Ma-namako" is the most common species and is found in shallow waters surrounding Japan. It grows up to 30 m long and 8 cm wide. "Ma-namako" is excellent for raw consumption, as well as for "iriko" and "konowata". Baika-namako" is Japan's largest sea cucumber species, reaching lengths of 7O-8O cm. It is found in waters from Okinawa to Micronesia. "Iriko" made from "baika-namako" is considered a high-valued product and is known as "gajimaru" in Okinawa and "haishen" in China. "Oki-namako" is found in the western coastal waters of Japan in depths up to 160 m. It grows to 40 cm and is good for "iriko." Kinko" is oval shaped and is found along the coast of the Sea of japan and north of Ibaragi Prefecture (northeastern Honshu) to Hokkaido. Japan's total annual production of sea cucumber is about 7,100 t, most of which is "ma-namako" (Table 1).



All species are treated equally in the fresh market, but color, size, and origin are important. According to one specialist at a Tsukiji Central Wholesale Market (TCWM) auction house in Tokyo, brown or green-colored live sea cucumbers in the 200-500 g range are the most acceptable for fresh consumption. Large sea cucumbers and sea cucumbers found in warm waters are said to be too tough to eat. Fresh or live Japanese sea cucumbers are usually sold for 500-1,500 Y/kg (Table 4). The price depends on the supply and is the highest from August to November. Fresh sea cucumbers are packed in 10 kg (net) flat cartons with 3 blue-ice packs per carton. After depuration in holding tanks, over 12 kg of sea cucumbers are packed to meet the net weight of about 10 kg upon arrival at market. About 20 percent of the original weight is lost during shipment through water loss. Specialists do not recommend freezing fresh sea cucumbers because they reportedly disintegrate when thawed.


Dried sea cucumber is produced by repeated boiling and drying. The Japanese market for dried sea cucumber seems to be limited because the dried product is used only by Chinese restaurants. However, the potential market for imported dried sea cucumber may be around 50 t a year, according to a Tokyo wholesaler specializing in Chinese food. Dried sea cucumber ( 10 percent moisture content) for the Japanese market is sorted to 1) no more than 30 pieces/600 g and 2) 31-70 pieces/600 g. One carton contains 20 kg and 2 cartons comprise a 40 kg master carton. Some California exporters, however, use gunny sacks. Dried sea cucumbers are usually distributed by wholesalers specializing in Chinese foods. The wholesale price is about 13,000-23,000 Y/kg, depending on quality. The quality of dried sea cucumbers is judged by the state of the cucumber after reconstitution with water. The texture of the sea cucumber's gelatinous meat must be like pudding and the reconstituted weight should be 4-5 times the dry weight. Sea cucumbers harvested off San Francisco and Los Angeles are of good quality and most are exported to Taiwan. The Japanese claim that Alaskan sea cucumber, however, is of inferior quality with little meat. Some dressed sea cucumbers, which are frozen in nitrogen after reconstitution from the dried state, are imported to Japan. However, thawing this type of frozen sea cucumber is reportedly difficult. No published statistics on dried sea cucumbers are available.

According to INFOFISH magazine, Hong Kong is the largest distribution center for dried sea cucumber in Asia. Japan also exports dried sea cucumber to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Taiwan imports high quality products only, whereas Hong Kong imports all grades and reexports low quality products to China.


"Konowata " is considered a delicacy in Japan. It is eaten mainly when drinking sake or whiskey. About 8- 10t are sold at TCWM per year. Wholesale prices at TCWM are about 4,000-8,000 Y/kg (Table 5). It is difficult to determine the current total market size for "konowata" in Japan. The publication " Marine products in Japan by E. Tanikawa (cited at the end of this report) describes the production process in detail: Sea cucumber viscera (alimentary canal and reproductive organs) are first thoroughly cleaned. Salt, equivalent to 10- 1 5 percent of the total wet weight of the visceral mass, is then added. The mixture is stirred frequently for about 5 hours, drained, and then put in barrels for about a week to age. The " konowata " is packaged for restaurants in 1 kg units in flat wooden barrels, or for retail in small glass jars or wooden barrels containing about 100 g. The retail price of a glass jar containing about 100-120 g is about 3,000 each. Regular supermarket or department stores do not usually carry "konowata." It is only found at specialty stores. (Source: IFR-89/69R, prepared Paul E. Niemeier, Office of International Affairs, NMFS, NOAA, Department of Commerce, Silver Spring, Maryland 209 10.) Publications which describe the sea cucumber drying process include:

Tanikawa, E. "Marine products in Japan," Koseisha-Koseikaku Company, 8 Sanei-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Sachithananthan, K. 1986. "Artisanal handling and processing of sea cucumbers (sand fish). " INFOFISH Digest, No. 2/86:35-36.

Nearshore Magazine. 1987. "Preparing beche-de-mer for export." Fisheries, Inc., P.O. Box 783, Wakefield, Rhode Island 02882. June: 13-15.
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Title Annotation:Foreign Fishery Developments
Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Sep 22, 1989
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