Farmed fish raised on a special diet that contains local regional specialties such as “yuzu” citrus fruit, herbs and ume Japanese apricot are winning converts across Japan.
Aquafarm operators have adopted this novel feeding approach to distinguish their products from conventional fish because they offer a distinctive taste and smell.
The aquafarming industry has been sluggish and is trying to reinvigorate itself.
The idea seems to be catching on. A sushi restaurant in Tokyo displays a notice, which reads, “This fish grew by eating sudachi (a citrus fruit) of Tokushima Prefecture.”
The fish was “buri,” or Japanese amberjack.
A 38-year-old homemaker, who ordered “Sudachi buri,” was ecstatic, saying, “This fish really has the flavor of sudachi.”
The outlet, called Muten Kura Zushi, is operated by sushi restaurant chain operator Kura Corp.
The sudachi buri was shipped this autumn for the first time by Tokushima Uoichiba Co., an aquafarm operator in Tokushima Prefecture. The company adds remnants of sudachi, which were squeezed, to the feed for buri raised in the Naruto Strait close by. Sudachi is a specialty of Tokushima.
The feed contains nearly four times more Vitamin E, which has antioxidant functions, than conventional buri. Buri that eat the feed taste much better than conventional ones, according to afficionados. They say the buri has a refreshing flavor.
“We are not only trying to promote a Tokushima specialty but also to make sudachi buri an incentive to revitalize the fishing industry,” said Soichi Yoshimoto, a managing director of Tokushima Uoichiba.
The price of sudachi buri is 15 percent higher than a conventional farmed one, which the company says is helping its bottom line.
The popularity of farmed fish raised with feed that contains citrus fruits apparently stems from “Mikan buri” from Ehime Prefecture. The tasty fish was the brainchild of a research institute affiliated with the Tokushima prefectural government.
Researchers were eager to stop the color of buri flesh from changing. They did that by adding “iyokan,” a citrus fruit and a specialty of the prefecture, into the fish feed. Iyokan used to be called Anato mikan.
Producers concluded that their farmed buri raised on the special feed would be easier to sell because the delay in the change in the color of the fish flesh would appeal to consumers.
But an official of sushi restaurant chain operator Kura said buri that has a delicate taste of mikan was bound to attract consumers.
The buri was developed at the request of Kura, which promoted it as the first of its “Fruity fish” series.
The mikan buri proved hugely popular. Those who have tried it describe the taste as “easy-to-eat” and “refreshing.” Sales of mikan buri have been about 50 percent higher than conventional farmed buri. Kura has made a name for itself by being the only sushi restaurant chain to offer the specialty.
After mikan buri, it introduced unusual tasting fish one after another, including “Yuzu kanpachi.” Kanpachi is greater amberjack. In November, Kura started to offer sudachi buri, the sixth in the series.
“When I heard about fish feed that contains citrus fruits, I thought that it was the wrong way (to promote sales). But now I think that it is a matter of course to create tastes that are sought by consumers,” said Kenichi Kiwada, president of Uwajima Project, which sells mikan buri.
Since 2010, companies in Oita Prefecture have been also selling buri or “hirame” raised on feed containing “kabosu,” a citrus fruit that is a specialty of the prefecture. Hirame is flounder.
The Oita prefectural government is also promoting kabosu buri and kabosu hirame in its sightseeing campaigns. The prefectural government, in cooperation with Umegaoka Sushi no Midori Co., an operator of sushi restaurants in Tokyo, is holding its second campaign from this month.
In the campaign, winners are chosen through lottery from among the restaurants’customers who ate the special buri or hirame and invited to “onsen” hot springs in the prefecture.
In Mie Prefecture, producers began to ship Ise madai, or red sea bream raised on feed containing Ise tea, a specialty of the prefecture, in 2012. The madai was raised in the nearby Kumanonada sea.
The aquafarming industry in the Kumanonada sea was dealt a major blow by the tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Its losses were put at 1.6 billion yen ($16 million). Producers are hoping to recover their losses by shipping 100,000 Ise madai a year.
Aquafarming is concentrated in western Japan, where water temperatures and geological features are ideal.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, aquafarming operations in Japan produced 246,000 tons of farmed fish in 2010. Of that figure, buri and similar fish accounted for 139,000 tons. Madai accounted for 68,000 tons.
The price of buri and similar fish topped 1,000 yen per kilogram in the latter half of the 1990s. It has since dropped to below 800 yen. The price of madai has halved in the past 20 years.
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