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Japanese Trading Companies Accelerating Overseas Investments In Tuna

Amid growing global demand for marine products, major Japanese trading companies are accelerating investments at home and abroad to secure a stable supply of such fish as salmon and tuna.

Economic growth in China and other emerging countries where fish is commonly eaten is pushing fish consumption to ever higher levels worldwide.

Meanwhile, many countries are discussing the need for limits on fishing of such popular fish as bluefin tuna to protect marine resources.

Japan is one of the world’s largest consumers of marine products.

In December, Marubeni Corp. bought a US marine product factory in Alaska for about USD 47 million. The factory procures and processes wild salmon and other fish. With the factory, Marubeni can supply 57,000 tons a year of marine products--mainly Alaskan salmon--to Japan, Europe and other parts of the world.

In November, Mitsubishi Corp. purchased a Chilean salmon farming company, which has facilities capable of producing about 20,000 tons of salmon a year, at a total cost of about USD 125 million (about 10 billion yen).

Both companies have excellent business results and will be able to provide large quantities of fish to Japan.

“Owning companies like this is just as valuable to us as owning promising mines or oil fields,” a Marubeni official said.

Major trading companies Sojitz Corp. and Toyota Tsusho Corp. farm bluefin tuna in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Toyota Tsusho, which cultures bluefin from a juvenile stage, shipped about 13,500 fish to firms in Nagasaki and Kagoshima prefectures last year.

The company said it utilizes farming sites where the sea is calm and employs Japan’s advanced fish farming technology. But fish farming has its own limits. Sea areas suitable for fish farming are limited, and prices of fishmeal fed to the fish in farms have been rising.

Fish consumption has been rising mainly in emerging countries, having jumped about 50 percent from 1990 to about 109 million tons in 2007.

Consumption of ocean fish and Norwegian-produced salmon has rapidly increased especially in China, which accounts for more than 30 percent of the world’s consumption of marine products.

China has been steadily increasing its coastal fishing since the late 1990s.

The success or failure of the trading companies to secure adequate supplies of fish may be the key to whether Japanese consumers will be able to eat reasonably priced fish in the future, observers said.