Even Japanese sushi makers are feeling the bite of the Russian war

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Sushi photographed in Washington, DC (Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey.)

TOKYO — Thousands of miles away from war in Ukraine, Japanese sushi restaurants and fish markets are feeling the pain of their country’s sanctions against Russia.

Prices for seafood and popular delicacies are skyrocketing in Japan, a major seafood importer from Russia, which sells salmon, crab, roe (fish roe) and sea urchin to cheaper prices than sellers in Europe or Canada, or even some local fishermen.

But limits imposed by Japan on imports from Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine have thrown a wrench in the seafood supply chain in the island nation, where seafood is a staple food. basic – exacerbating the economic woes Japanese restaurants and vendors have endured due to the pandemic.

Seafood imports from Norway have also fallen due to diverted and canceled flights from Europe after sanctions restricted access to Russian airspace, according to Japanese media.

Restaurant owners and fish market vendors are also concerned about rising fuel prices following the invasion, and they worry about a prolonged impact of the sanctions.

Pressure on markets and restaurants are not likely to abate soon, especially after Japan announced this week it will revoke Russia’s ‘most favored nation’ trade status, which would lead to higher fruit tariffs. imported seafood.

Already, some sushi restaurants are feeling the pain — including conveyor belt restaurants or fast-casual eateries that serve affordable sushi, which are struggling to get some of their most sought-after ingredients, like salmon, uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe) and crab.

While large chains can build up monthly food stocks, operators of smaller stores struggle to do so and have difficulty diversifying their suppliers and distributors, according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

“We unfortunately had to stop serving our popular aurora salmon dish,” said an employee of Sushi Choshimaru, a conveyor belt restaurant in Tokyo. “It used to be imported from Norway, but now it’s not possible because of the thefts. So we have switched to using frozen salmon products for the time being. Fortunately, other products have not been affected so far and we have plenty of stock.

Products from Russia accounted for 8.6% of all seafood imports to Japan last year, making Russia the third-largest exporter of seafood to Japan, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture. forests and fisheries.

However, for some fish, including 79% sockeye salmon, 56% crab and 47% sea urchin imported into Japan, Russia is the main supplier.

Many seafood markets have started to rely on Russian sea urchin imports, especially after last year’s rare red tide, a harmful algal bloom that discolored the water, killing sea urchins and salmon around. of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.

In Hokkaido, which depends on Russian imports of crab, uni and salmon, sushi restaurants and seafood markets are raising their prices. A sushi restaurant in Hokkaido that served two pieces for 650 yen for uni ($5) is now serving one piece for the same price, after switching to sea urchin in Canada that doubled the cost of deliveries from Russia.

Two of Japan’s biggest conveyor-belt sushi restaurants have raised concerns that, although they have enough supplies in stock at the moment, prolonged sanctions will end up hurting them. Sushi Choshimaru plans to bring back aurora salmon after finding a new route to import it from Norway, but the dish will be more expensive and served in limited quantities.

In Fukuoka, a prefecture in southwestern Japan famous for its mentaiko (pollock roe), companies are concerned about their access to Russian pollock. One company, Fukuya, said 80% of its pollock is imported from Russia.

The Mentaiko season lasts from January to April, and makers buy a year’s supply of materials during those four months. As companies stockpiled ingredients in March, industry officials said they were concerned about extended penalties that could limit their access to the materials they need in the final month of the season.

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Tokyo’s Toyosu wholesale fish market, one of the largest in the world, to meet with executives of companies operating there. He pointed to rising fish prices in the market and acknowledged that the Japanese government needed to take steps to mitigate the impact of sanctions on local operators.

“I heard [from the business executives] that they are struggling amidst a double whammy of the covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis,” Kishida said in a briefing to reporters after the meeting. “A more detailed answer [to the issues] is necessary.”

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