Riding the seafood wave

Riding the seafood wave

10 October 2018

With a proven commitment to sustainability, along with its quality produce and dedication to innovation, there is great potential for New Zealand and fellow seafood-loving nation Japan to work together. 

A brighter seafood future

Provisional data on fish exports from New Zealand to Japan for January to July this year shows  almost 10,000 tonnes has been exported so far. Meanwhile around 600,000 tonnes of seafood excluding aquaculture is harvested from New Zealand waters each year in total, according to Seafood New Zealand.  

Japan already benefits from New Zealand’s quality produce and the vast majority of that seafood is frozen. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Tokyo-based Business Development Manager Shintaro Nakamura says there is great opportunity for New Zealand and Japan to work together to bring value-added fresh New Zealand seafood to Japan. 

Japan is well-known to be a seafood-loving nation and it has extremely strict standards and expectations when it comes to the seafood it imports. The quality of New Zealand seafood is already high and with some extra knowledge-sharing around better ways to keep the seafood fresh while it is sent to Japan, it is possible for Japanese people to enjoy the wider benefits and great taste of New Zealand seafood, Nakamura says.  

“New Zealanders value long-term relationships and reciprocal support over many years. This is well-aligned with Japan and creates a platform for long-term profitable business,” Sealord Asia Export Sales Manager Brett Halliday."

In 2016 a joint Japan-New Zealand fisheries working group, Ka Awatea Kai, was established with Japan’s major fishery companies and a key seafood industry organisation alongside New Zealand fisheries representatives. The goal of Ka Awatea Kai is to increase the value and opportunities for commercial development of New Zealand seafood exports to Japan.  

Nakamura, who is part of the working group, says they have been working on increasing the value of exports from New Zealand and developing marketing strategies for New Zealand fisheries in Japan. The group is also lobbying for new names of New Zealand fish in Japan since the renaming of some foreign fish in Japan in recent years has been linked to a decline in sales. 

A sustainable source

With so much of the world’s ocean fish stock estimated to be exploited or depleted from overfishing, New Zealand’s fisheries stand out as one of the world’s leaders in sustainable fisheries management.

New Zealand is home to the world’s fourth largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), of which 30 percent is completely off-limits to bottom trawling but in total more than 90 percent has never been bottom trawled. According to the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), 97 percent of commercial seafood catch from New Zealand is from sustainable stock, and numerous fisheries are officially certified producers of sustainable seafood.  

Many New Zealand fisheries are managed under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a global non-profit organisation that sets the standard for sustainable fishing. More than half of New Zealand’s seafood is caught in the wild and 74 percent of deep water fisheries are certified MSC. 

Nakamura says most Japanese fisheries are only small, often family-run entities that do not follow global sustainability measures. With the 2020 Olympic Games around the corner, Japan is trying to catch up with MSC standards. The country’s largest retailer Aeon announced it would commit to increasing the amount of MSC-certified fish sold in its stores by 10 percent by 2020. 

“If New Zealand can produce MSC-certified fresh seafood that meets Japanese quality expectations for sashimi grade fish, and fly it fresh to Japan, that’s a great value-added outcome and strong competitive advantage.” Nakamura says. 

New Zealand’s second-largest seafood company Sealord, which is half-owned by Japanese fishing company Nissui and half-owned by Aotearoa Fisheries, has exported numerous  species of fish to Japan over the course of 25 years.  

Sealord Asia Export Sales Manager Brett Halliday says the company specialises in frozen fish exports, but also exports deep water species Alfonsino fresh during Japan’s off-season. He says the company is always working on ways to add value to products heading to Japan. In the past this has included designing product grading and sizing specifications especially to meet the needs of the Japanese market. 

“In more recent times, Sealord has been paying even more attention to what product characteristics are most valued by Japanese customers. Whether it is sizing of the fish to cut into kirimi [portion cuts] or measuring the fat content to separate high fat from low fat fish,” he says. 

Halliday says New Zealand has rich natural resources and plenty of companies looking for growth into new markets - a feature that Japanese companies can gain a lot from. 

“New Zealanders value long-term relationships and reciprocal support over many years. This is well-aligned with Japan and creates a platform for long-term profitable business.” 

The technology twist

Perhaps less recognised than its world-class sustainable fisheries and quality seafood is New Zealand’s dedication to innovation. A potentially game-changing technology for the fishing industry called Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH) has been developed with the support of various New Zealand fishing companies as well as the MPI. 

The technology involves catching fish using a net designed with escape holes that allow fish to escape that are too small or are not the right species. The caught fish can keep swimming within the net until they end up on the trawler while the fish that escape can swim away with minimal stress. The technology has been approved for commercial fishing of deep water Hoki, Hake and Ling fisheries in New Zealand.  

Nakamura says there is already interest from a large Japanese marine products company in PSH-caught fish from New Zealand. PSH, combined with the use of more updated Japanese fish preserving techniques (everything from how the fish is killed to the use of temperature control, and using specialised transport techniques), is already putting fresh New Zealand seafood is in a strong position when it comes to passing stringent Japanese standards.  

Another technological development involving seafood in New Zealand is the use of discarded Hoki skins to create high-tech face masks. Two New Zealand companies – seafood company Sanford and nanotechnology company Revolution Fibres  – have teamed up to make a skincare product that can be used for beauty purposes as well as to treat burns and skin conditions.  

The product is created by taking the structural protein collagen from fish skins and spinning it to create nano material, which becomes the face pack. Other elements are added during the spinning process, such as natural extracts. The material dissolves on wet skin, releasing the nutrients.  

Looking ahead

Whether it is through innovation or sustainable high quality produce, New Zealand has a lot to offer the Japanese market when it comes to seafood. With more partnerships in this space between the two countries, there is immense potential for seafood companies of both nations to learn from each other and make the most of the natural resources available. 

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