Japan wholesale shrimp prices hit record levels

The wholesale prices of imported frozen shrimp are soaring by a large margin in Japan as supply decreased drastically in the wake of the spread of infectious disease -- early mortality syndrome -- in the farming ponds in the south east Asian countries since last fall.

The rise in transaction prices in Japan is also attributed to the combination of the yen's depreciation and an about 20% increase in the dollar-denominated prices in producing countries, reported Seafoodnews.com.

The prices of major shrimp species in Thailand climbed to yet another all-time high level.

Industry observers foresee that the high prices will most probably persist for some time to come, because this year large supply increase cannot be anticipated in early summer and afterwards--a time when landings usually show increase.

The shrimp disease is most serious in Thailand.

The wholesale prices of vannamei--a species sold most frequently at supermarkets and other mass retailers--in Japan now stand at around JPY 1,800 per 1.8 kilograms (head-off, 13-gram size), which is about 40% higher than those at the end of last year, renewing the previous record levels.

The cause of contagion has not been clarified yet. Since the start of the year, many shrimp farmers have been halting their operation or decreasing the stocking amount.

There is a speculation in Thailand that production this year could shrink by 20-30% over last year.

Just prior to the holiday-studded Golden Week in early May -- the largest demand season in Japan only after the end-of-the-year period -- an official of a major seafood trading firm said it is difficult to secure necessary volume to cover the demand amid the ongoing intense supply shortage, noting that such a situation is truly unprecedented.

The prices of black tiger--a species generally larger than vannamei, and used for tempura and fried food dishes at restaurants--are also on an upward trend.

The wholesale prices of the benchmark Indonesian black tiger (head-off, 25 gram size) spiked up over 40% from the end of last year to around JPY 2,900 per 1.8 kg, a high price level last seen in the mid-1990s.

Since last summer, Japanese buyers tended to concentrate on Indonesian black tiger after anti-oxidant in excess of the Japanese standard limit was detected from the shrimp from India and Vietnam.

While supply is decreasing, buy inquiries for shrimp have been expanding, notably from the US, where the economy is visibly on a recovery trend.

A wholesaler at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market observed the Japanese criteria for the anti-oxidant in imported food are more rigorous than those in other countries.

Therefore, an increasing number of shrimp exporters are shifting sales to other destinations than Japan in a bid to avoid problems, he said.

A Japanese importer noted, when Japan was a predominant buyer of shrimp, traders in producing countries took measures such as reducing their dollar-denominated prices when the yen’s value weakened.

But such consideration is not given at present because there are buyers other than Japan, he said.

The repercussions of high wholesale prices are being felt on the retail levels.

A supermarket in the Tokyo metropolitan area recently raised the special price for Thai vannamei to JPY 128 per 100 grams from JPY 98.

"We are trying to retain the per-pack price unchanged by reducing the content volume. But the sales amount as a whole stand at about half of last year because it is difficult to secure merchandize," he said.

In a fresh-fish chain store in the Tokyo area, the over-the-counter price of Indonesian black tiger was increased by about 10% to JPY 780-880 per 10 shrimp.

(Summarized from the Nihon Keizai Shimbun)

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