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The Japanese abalone market.

Although abalone is expensive in Japan, it is popular among Japanese consumers, who eat it in sashimi, Chinese food, and holiday gift preparations. There are five major abalone species consumed in Japan. The United States was the fourth-largest exporter of abalone to Japan in 1988.


Japan's major abalone species are the Japanese abalone or kuro awabil" Nordotis discus; the giant abalone or "madaka awabi " N. gigantea; Siebold's abalone or "mekai awabil" N. gigantea seiboldii; the northern abalone or "ezo awabi," N. discus hannai; the tokobushi abalone or tokobushi;' Sulculus &versicolor; and a subspecies of the tokobushi abalone known as the "fuku tokobushi," S. diversicolor aquatilis. Although the northern abalone is found in shallow coastal waters off northern Honshu and Hokkaido (at depths of less than 15 m), the other species are found in warmer waters at depths ranging from 10 to 50 m.

Japanese abalone is thick-shelled, has dark colored meat, and grows to approximately cm in length. Although it is good to eat fresh or steamed whole, the meat is considered tough. Giant abalone also reach lengths of 20 cm, but the meat shrinks slightly when steamed. Siebold's abalone, which grows to 25 cm. is flatter than the other species and is consumed raw. Northern abalone has a relatively thin shell and is suitable for any type of preparation. Tokobushi abalone is smaller than the other species, growing to lengths of only 7 cm. Tokobushi is characterized by 7-8 open holes on the shell, whereas other species of abalone have only 3-4 holes.


Abalone is extremely expensive in Japan, and is generally bought by restaurants for preparation as sashimi. Almost all species are considered suitable for sashimi, although Japanese consumers prefer abalone with tan-colored meat. Giant and tokobushi abalone are also used in preparations known as "nigai" or ni-awabi", whole abalones cooked with fish broth and soy. "Niawabi" packed in plastic bags or cans is a popular choice for the winter gift season. A leading Japanese manufacturer produces over 500 metric tons (t) of various kinds of ni-gai annually for the Japanese gift market. Other popular preparations are abalone steaks sauteed in butter and abalone marinated in vinegar. Dried abalone is used for Chinese cooking. The Japanese demand for fresh abalone increases in the summer because the Japanese believe that the quality improves as the season progresses.


Live abalone is sold at auctions in Japan, generally in sizes ranging from 150 to 500 g. The most popular size is 200-300 g. Live Japanese abalone commands the best prices-$22.90-$53.00 per kg (U.S.$l = V 131)-and is normally sold to luxury Japanese restaurants for sashimi. Japanese shippers of live abalone keep the abalone in tanks at water temperatures of 15-18'C without feeding for about a week before shipment. Depriving the abalone of feed is believed to slow down its metabolism, thereby reducing mortality rates during shipping. Another benefit of the premarketing feed cut is to enhance the flavor of the abalone by reducing odor and excessive fat caused by feeds. The precise duration of the feed cut depends on the size of species.


Japan imported over 56 t (valued at $1.7 million) of abalone in 1988. The leading suppliers were, by quantity, China (25 t), the Republic of Korea 19 t), Australia (9 t), and the United States (4 t) Fig. 1). By value, however, South Korea ($820,000) surpassed China ($690,000) by 17 percent, because of the higher quality of its abalone.

Imported abalone is said to be tougher than Japanese abalone, although live or fresh imports are considered more tender than the frozen product. Imports are generally not used for sashimi, but processed and canned. About 40,000 cartons of canned abalone are distributed in Japan annually 2. U.S. abalone is not considered suitable for drying because the flavor is said to be insufficient to produce a quality broth.

Live California black abalone > 1 kg each) and pink abalone (about 2 kg each) were sold in the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market TCVM) in September 1988 for about $12.20 per kg, and $17.50-20.60 per kg, respectively. Other U.S. species are unknown in Japan. A specialist at a TCWM auction house advised U.S. exporters that a premarketing feed cut of 3-4 days for black abalone and 7 days for pink abalone should help reduce mortality rates. He also suggested sorting both species according to size. The recommended carton size is 10 kg, although sometimes 12 kg cartons may be packed to compensate for water loss during shipment. Imported abalone often loses about 20 percent of its original weight by the time it is sold at auction. The specialist suggested that U.S. exporters should begin with trial shipments of 100-200 kg, and increase the quantity to 400-500 kg per shipment later. Consistency in shipping quantity and stable quality are important for Japanese buyers.

Rukiii import houses import fish and seafood on a consignment basis and remit PaYment to exporters about 1 week after the auction. They deduct 5.5 percent commission, import duties, trucking charges, etc. They are authorized by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to sell to middlemen or wholesalers at auctions through bidding, bargaining, or at a fixed price. The goods may be consigned by producers or purchased by the auction houses from producers. The wholesaler's selling commissions are fixed at 5.5 percent for marine products. (Source: IFR-89/44R. Prepared by Karen Kelsky and Paul Niemeier of the NMFS Foreign Fisheries Analysis Branch, Silver Springs, MD 20910.)
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jun 22, 1989
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