Page 20 in Norway Exports - seafood, fishing & aquaculture

norway’s introduction of salmon sushi to japan By Valeria Criscione In the 1970s, Japan did not import a single piece of fish and it did not use salmon for sushi. That all started to change in the 1980s after a Norwegian seafood delegation visited the Asian country and Project Japan was formed. Today, Norwegian salmon is the sushi fish of choice among young Japanese. Forty years ago, Japan enjoyed a selfsufficient seafood industry. It produced around 7 million tonnes and consumed about 60 kilograms of seafood per capita annually, well above the world average of about 15 kilograms. Still, the Asian nation had enough fish to be a net exporter. By the mid 1990s, the picture had radically changed. Japan was only 50% selfsufficient and needed new suppliers to satisfy the huge demand at home. There were several reasons behind the breakdown in Japanese fisheries, according to Bjørn Eirik Olsen, director at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima) and former fish attaché to the Norwegian ambassador in Japan. The two most important reasons for the fall were that Japan was overfishing its stocks – partly because of its lack of a quota system – and because it had been thrown out of other countries’ fishing zones, said Olsen. There were also natural factors related to Japan’s complicated ocean system that ended up harming its fishing stocks. Listau went back to Japan in 1985 towards the end of his term as Norwegian fisheries minister. He brought with him a seafood delegation of close to 20 people representing Norwegian seafood exporters, ministers and organizations. When he returned, he decided to establish a government initiative called Project Japan that would promote the Norwegian seafood industry there. Their initial goal was to market all types of Norwegian fish, particularly capelin, and double exports to Japan in both volume and price. At the time, Norway exported around NOK 500 million in seafood products to Japan, representing 1% of Japan’s total imports and 7% of Norway’s seafood exports. By 1991, that amount had grown to NOK 1.8 billion. “It’s not just due to Project Japan…but it opened doors,” said Olsen. “It made Norwegian exporters focus on Japan.” The project ended up in having a profound effect on the culinary habits of Japanese who were unaccustomed to eating salmon raw. The preferred fish for sushi and sashimi were tuna and sea bream. Salmon was used for grilling and kirimi, a lightly salted and dried fish dish. The Japanese considered Pacific salmon dangerous to consume raw because these wild fish were exposed to parasites and considered too lean for sushi. Moreover, domestic tuna distributors were very protectionist. “Everybody said ‘we do not eat raw salmon’,” said Olsen, who was also responsible for market research for Project Japan from 1986-1991. “We had to really fight to introduce salmon into the market… It took 15 years from when the first salmon went to Japan (in 1980) to the breakthrough for raw consumption in 1995.” Best Norwegian Invention Arne Hjeltnes, chief executive at digital advertising agency Creuna in Oslo, says Project Japan Japan seemed a natural market for Norwegian seafood. Thor Listau, Norwegian member of the parliamentary shipping and fisheries committee, first became inspired with the idea of selling Norwegian fish to the Japanese following a trade delegation visit to Japan in 1974. The trip was meant to widen the circle of friendship between the two nations. In 1974, a Norwegian parliamentary delegation travelled to Japan to widen the circle of friendship. Present was Thor Listau, member of the shipping and fisheries committee and founder of Project Japan, and Hiroshi Niwa, head of the Norwegian Trade Council in Tokyo. 18 © Bjørn Eirik Olsen, Nofima/Norwegian newspaper Engan Journal, Sept 25, 1974

Page 19 - the seafood industry in France. Both pilot projects will run until the end of this   Page 21 - getting the Japanese to put salmon on a lump of rice is perhaps one of Norway’s  
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