Seafood to Japan

Trends and opportunities

The market

Japan’s seafood industry ranges from finned fish, shellfish, edible seaweeds, frozen and canned products, to food retort pack/pouch products.

Japan is world famous for its fish-eating culture. Japanese seafood such as sushi, sashimi and tempura has become popular in global markets due to its healthy, low fat and low calorie content. However, younger generation Japanese have started to lower their consumption of fish in preference to ready-to-eat meals.

In 2001, the annual consumption of seafood per capita reached a peak of 40 kilograms, but has since decreased to 28 kilograms in 2012. Total consumption of seafood in 2012 was 6.5 million tons. Consumption of salmon, tuna, bonito and saury has increased nearly 40 per cent, while the consumption of mackerel, horse mackerel and squid has slowly declined by 50 per cent over the past 40 years. Much of this decline is due to the increasing price of seafood and the increasing availability of ready-to-eat meals. (Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FY2013 Trends in Fisheries / White Paper on Fisheries (PDF))

In 2013, Japan’s seafood imports decreased by a further 9 per cent to 2.5 million tons from the previous year (Source: Ministry of Finance, Trade Statistics of Japan, Sep 2014). This was due to an increase in costs caused by exchange rates, a weakened yen, and increasing global demand for seafood. For the same reason, however, the value of imports increased by 15 per cent to JPY1.6 trillion from the previous year. (Source: Ministry of Finance, Trade Statistics of Japan, Sep 2014) If given the choice, most Japanese prefer to purchase local seafood as they believe it is safer and the supply is more reliable than imported products.

Australia exports a range of seafood products including:

  • Prawns
  • Southern bluefin tuna
  • Tasmanian salmon
  • Abalone - live, frozen and canned
  • Pacific oysters
  • School whiting
  • Patagonian tooth fish

Australia continues to enjoy a position as a supplier of high quality, fresh, safe seafood. Examples of successful Australian seafood exports include southern bluefin tuna, which has established a strong brand recognition in sushi restaurants. Tasmanian salmon continues to attract a higher price at markets than its main competitor, Norway (one of the largest producers). Fresh oysters tend to be priced at the high-end at oyster bars in metropolitan areas and are now expanding to the retail supermarket sector.

Due to quota and increasing prices, the market for western rock lobsters has declined considerably. Demand for king prawns has also fallen for the same reasons.

Opportunities

Japanese manufacturers, processors, wholesalers, restaurants chains and supermarkets are all interested in clean, safe, price-competitive and value-add products from overseas.

Potential opportunities for Australian seafood suppliers include:

  • Fresh and frozen oysters
  • Tasmanian salmon
  • Short-finned eel
  • Wakame seaweed (dried)
  • Splendid alfonsino
  • Spanner crab
  • Shark meat for fish and chips

Competitive environment

While there is a large range of domestic and imported seafood in Japan (especially tuna, salmon, prawns and abalone), Australia enjoys a competitive advantage in supplying fresh, raw seafood to Japan.

Australian seafood such as southern bluefin tuna, Tasmania salmon, tiger prawns, pacific oysters and abalone occupy the mid to high-end market in Japan. Such products are currently sold through specialty food stores, supermarkets and the internet which gives access to a growing number of Japanese consumers.

Tariffs, regulations and customs

Japanese importers are responsible for ensuring that imported products comply with strict regulations. Regulations applicable to imported seafood include:

  • Food Sanitation Law
  • Japan Agricultural Standards
  • Product labelling regulations
  • Product liability law
  • Other regulations may also apply in special cases (Import Quotas exist for herring, Pacific cod, yellowtail, mackerel, sardine, horse mackerel, saury, scallop, squid, kelp and laver)

Note: While Japanese importers are generally responsible for ensuring imported products comply with regulations, exporters should be aware that contracts may place legal responsibility for regulations with the exporter.

Depending on the product, any of the following may be required as part of Japanese customs procedures:

  • Certificate of Origin
  • Product process information – Process Flow Chart
  • Laboratory test results – types of test vary according to the nature of the product
  • Other certifications such as AQIS documents
  • Tariffs on seafood vary according to species, type of products and the degree of processing

Marketing your products and services

Market entry

Since the 1990s, Japan’s seafood industry has been reviewing their traditional operating methods in order to gain a competitive advantage over rivals. Part of their competitive advantage has been to source products from overseas suppliers. Recent trends have seen firms respond to the high cost of producing seafood locally by relocating processing plants to other Asian countries. This has been undertaken for products such as prawns and whiting.

A number of Australian seafood companies have achieved success in Japan by having a good understanding of the market, meeting import approval requirements of the Japanese government, being competitive and forming good working relationships with Japanese partners.

Australia’s geographical location is key to conducting business in Japan. Australian companies are able to take advantage of counter-seasonal supply, similar time zones and frequent direct flights to major Japanese business centres such as Tokyo and Osaka.

The seafood sector is very competitive in Japan, and therefore it is advisable for exporters to:

  • Draw up a comprehensive export-marketing plan covering target segments, strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities
  • Find the right partner (importer or distributor) and establish the foundations for a long-term relationship
  • Ensure that you exercise stringent quality control on your product, especially in terms of product safety
  • Ensure that you can supply consistent quantities within agreed timeframes
  • Demonstrate a willingness to support promotional activities to market your product

Potential buyers of seafood products in Japan include:

  • Existing importers or distributors for seafood products
  • Japanese food processors
  • Japanese food service industry

The Japanese seafood market caters for an increasingly quality and price conscious consumer and food services sector. The population is also ageing and becoming more health-conscious, which is leading to increased potential for products advertising health benefits.

Distribution channels

The traditional distribution channels for seafood are relatively complex with personal, historical and financial relations playing their part in the decision making process. Seafood distribution channels maintain traditional methods of distribution and sales and major wholesalers in fish markets continue to play a key role in auctions and distribution.

Links and industry contacts

Government, business and trade resources

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Food Sanitation Law

Australian resources

Japan External Trade Organization

Please note: this list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only.

Contact details

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission – Austrade – contributes to Australia's economic prosperity by helping Australian businesses, education institutions, tourism operators, governments and citizens as they:

  • develop international markets
  • win productive foreign direct investment
  • promote international education
  • strengthen Australia's tourism industry
  • seek consular and passport services.

Austrade provides information and advice that can help you reduce the time, cost and risk of exporting. We also administer the Export Market Development Grant Scheme and offer a range of services to Australian exporters in growth and emerging markets.