I have been in the fish business for just over 30 years. There is no place more idolised as the centre of the world for those of us in fish, than the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is reputed to be the largest in the world. 700,000 tons of fish pass though there each year. 500 odd species totalling about $5bn dollars in value. A Bluefin Tuna sold there at the new site, in 2019 for a staggering $3.1m. There is no doubt that the Japanese love their fish. In fact, in Japan they consume 48.6 kg of seafood per capita per year. This is over double our 20 odd kg’s per year in the UK. In Japan, certain fish mongers have the same status as a sommelier does for wine. This is unique to Japan. I trade with the only one, resident outside of Japan, Nick Sakagami, Osakana Meister number 109. With Tuna, his palate is so sensitive, he can, by the smell & taste, tell you what ocean it is from & how it has been treated since its capture. These are unique skills, skills only found in Japan as far as I am aware.
The UK is a fishing nation. In 2019, UK exports of fish and shellfish to Japan totalled a miniscule £17.6 million, making up 0.2% of all UK goods exports to Japan. In 2019, Japan was the 14th largest destination for all UK fish and shellfish exports and the 5th largest non-EU destination. UK fish and shellfish exports to Japan made up 0.9% of all global UK fish and shellfish exports to the world in 2019. We can do better as a nation than that!
Mackerel is the 5th most popular fish in Japan and salmon, the most popular. The UK has a world class fishery in the former and a world class aquaculture industry in the latter. Cod is also popular. So why has trade not been more lucrative? Well, there are tariffs between the UK and Japan. Tariffs protect the local producers at the expense of their consumers and generally make food more expensive. We still come under the EU trading bloc, whose governance we are under, until the end of the year. Once these barriers are removed, we will be able to trade more. Although Atlantic Salmon is now free, Cod still remains at 9.1% and Mackerel at 9.4%. There will be opportunities with other species as well.
We export £1.3 bn of fish annually, nearly two thirds to Europe. The EU fleet catches nearly as much in UK territorial waters as the UK fleet does in its own waters, some 700,000 tons, the weight of all the fish sold in the top Japanese market I mentioned at the start of this article. With this injustice being corrected when we leave the final clutches of the EU at the end of the year, we will have a tremendous opportunity to a) catch more and b) sell more and c) more of that catch to new, or underserved markets.
With a UK/Japan Free Trade Agreement shortly to be in place, with the prospect of zero tariffs into the largest fish consumers in the world, our industry may well start to see some of that prosperity denied to us since our incorporation into the EU and the surrender of our sovereign waters to a foreign power, come back to us.
Toby Baxendale is an entrepreneur & investor see www.tobybaxendale.com