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Japanese imports of marine products hit 2.4 million tons worth $8-billion.

Japanese Imports of Marine Products Hit 2.4 Million Tons Worth $8-Billion

Exclusion from 200-mile coastal fishing zones makes Japan world's largest buyer of fish as well as top consumer. U.S. claims biggest market share, selling 460,000 tons in 1988.

Just how big is the Japanese market for seafood imports?

Very big: 2.4-million tons' worth in 1988, valued at $8-billion. Representing some 5.7% of the nation's total imports the year before, Japan's imports of marine products are second to none in the world.

And with the U.S. as its top supplier, the two countries together represent from 45% to 50% of all global trade in fish and seafood. Last year Japan imported some 460,000 tons from American suppliers, worth $1.6-billion. Indeed, it accounts for 75% of U.S. fish exports.

"As far as marine products are concerned, the balance of trade between Japan and the United States is four to one in favor of the U.S.," remarked H. Uchimura, president of the Japan Fisheries Association, at the National Fisheries Institute Convention in Las Vegas. "...It is generally accepted that due to the overall trade surplus on the side of Japan, the United States condemns it for having a closed market. However, in the case of fishery products the situation is entirely in reverse."

Of course, the Japanese are not eating more fish to help Americans reduce their trade deficit. The fact is that there has been a shortage of domestic fleet catches since the U.N.-inspired imposition of the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone by coastal states around the world. Over the past decade, according to Uchimura, Japan's harvests from international waters fell by 50%.

He elaborated: "Americanization of the fishing industry by the United States has been steadily expanding while the fishing allocation given to Japan has been reduced year after year, from 1.2-million tons at the time of the establishment of the 200-mile zone, down to zero last year."

Meanwhile, consumer demand has been rising in a country that has historically claimed the largest per capita consumption of fish in the industrialized world. Last year each person ate an average of 165 pounds (live weight) of fish and seafood. To feed this appetite imports have advanced almost ten-fold from 270,000 tons in 1965, the year before the introduction of the 200-mile zone.

Along with the increase of imports, the number of foreign-sourced items has also risen, said Uchimura. Currently some 300 different products are brought in from 122 nations. Shrimp ranks No. 1 in value at $2.31 billion, followed by salmon, tuna and crab. Following the U.S., other major suppliers are South Korea, Taiwan, China and Canada (See QFFI, Jan. 1989, page 74).

The negative impact of the 200-mile zone on domestic production cannot be overstated. Purchases of salmon from the U.S. rose from just 15,000 tons before 1977 to 130,000 tons in recent years worth about $500 million. Cod and pollock imports from the States went from zero to 140,000 tons.

Sablefish and flatfish species were not imported at all by Japanese buyers until 1985. But the banning of foreign longliners within the U.S. zone meant that 25,000 tons of sablefish had to be imported last year. Some 37,000 tons of flatfish were brought in, compared to zero only four years ago.

The U.S. share of Japan's rich seafood market should continue to be healthy. However, the Fisheries Association president warned against measures proposed by some members of the U.S. government to restrict the importation of Japanese pearls and other items to penalize Tokyo's controversial whaling policy. "Such a situation will have to be avoided at any price," he said, "as there would be a significant effect on the trade of marine products between the two countries."

As Japan's reliance on external supplies has become greater, Uchimura's organization has joined the NFI and other national trade associations in urging scientific management of international waters. "We need cooperation among nations concerned in order to avoid overfishing," he said. "The problem should be considered from an internal point of view and a long-range perspective taken up in the United Nations."

Uchimura further stated that scientific findings regarding fisheries should be relied upon in order to avoid the intrusion of political decision-making which will "engender no end of difficulty for all concerned." He expressed hope that last year's establishment of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations should help in dealing with common problems facing the global industry.

PHOTO : H. Uchimura, president of the Japan Fisheries Association, addresses the NFI in Las Vegas.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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