Translated by Jelena Kitamura
Unforgettably Delicious! The Best Fish From Fukushima
Soma is a city in the northern Hama-dori region in Fukushima. The fishermen here catch high-quality seafood in abundance. Learn about the secrets behind the flavorful, delicious fish and the production process in Matsukawa-ura Bay.
Written by MATCHA-PR
Fish from Fukushima: First-Class Flavor, Texture, And Appearance
“Eat delicious fish to your heart’s content!”
MATCHA's editing team set out to investigate this claim for themselves after hearing about the abundant, great-tasting fish in Fukushima.
They went to Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama) in Soma City, in the northern part of Hamadori Region in Fukushima Prefecture.
This is where the Kuroshio and Oyashio currents (*1) meet. The vast number of plankton provide nutrients for a variety of fish and other sea creatures.
There are more than 150 species of fish caught each year here. Some of these include goosefish, flounder, righteye flounder, young lancefish, octopus, sea urchin, and snow crab.
The fish are healthy and contain plenty of meat. This quality and freshness is renowned in Japan and known as “joban-mono.”
*1 Kuroshio and Oyashio currents: Kuroshio current is a major warm current flowing in the Pacific Ocean from the southern part of the Japanese archipelago. Oyashio current is a cold current that flows in the Pacific Ocean starting from the northern part of the country. The area where these two currents meet is said to be very rich in fish.
Yakizakana-tsuki hokki-gohan set meal at Asahitei (1,574 yen before tax)
Asahitei (Japanese) is a restaurant in the bay area, where we indulged in dishes made with fish caught right in Soma.
The grilled karei (right eye flounder) in the upper-left corner, and the asari (Manila clam) used to make the shellfish soup (bottom right corner), were caught in Soma City. The meaty righteye flounder is beautifully grilled and flavored lightly with salt.
Even the Manila clams are bigger than average. The hokki-gohan in the bottom-left corner consists of rice mixed with dashi stock made from hokki clams (Sakhalin surf clam). This dish is one of Soma's delicacies.
Each bite is filled with the flavor of ocean.
Fukushima’s Fishery – Delivering Tasty and Safe-to-Eat Fish
How are these fish caught and transported to customers in Fukushima?
We decided to see for ourselves by meeting and talking to the fishermen of Soma in person.
Fishing at Midnight
It is 1:30 in the morning and cars are parked here at the bay.
The lights of the boats turn on.
It is late December, and the temperature is about 1 degree Celsius. The frigid wind would make most people's hands go numb, but the fishermen here are moving their hands normally. Fishing is about to start.
There is no small talk. The atmosphere is filled with the feelings of excitement and nerves before the expedition begins.
Fukushima is conducting operation tests for the coastal fisheries throughout the prefecture. Matsukawa-ura Bay area (Haragama) is part of these trials.
Shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant broke after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, radioactive material was detected in fish caught in one part of the sea of Fukushima Prefecture. Radioactive material monitoring processes in Fukushima have already determined which fish are safe for consumption. These operation tests are held to collect data that could help the fishing industry recover.
The fish that was shipped out during our visit (February 8, 2019) was confirmed to be completely safe. Before the earthquake, the fishermen used to sail out to catch fish 5 days a week. Now, they fish only 2-3 days a week, but these trials are helping improve the situation.
It is now 2:00 and it is time to catch fish. One by one, the boats slowly sail out to the late night ocean, accompanied by the steady sounds of the engine.
This picture shows fishing trawlers (*2) that are headed to a fishing area 20-60 km offshore. They will catch fish for several hours. Their work includes more than eight hours on the boat at sea.
*2 trawling: a fishing method during which a trawl (net) is hurled into the water to catch fish deep below the sea surface, after which the net is pulled back above water.
Families in Fishing
It is now 10:30. At the Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama), families are waiting for the return of the fishing boats.
Fishing work in Soma is usually shared: for example, men will catch fish, and the wives will take on other jobs and responsibilities. The work is carried out by the whole family.
The fish are treated with care after being caught to keep them fresh until they reach the market.
The fish are separated by species and size, and then selected carefully.
At some markets, fish and other produce are placed ground directly, but at Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama) they are put it in baskets, in consideration of food hygiene.
An Exciting Auction
The once-silent marketplace is beginning to fill with energy. Wholesalers and food and drink traders gather, and the bidding begins for the fish auction.
When the traders spot the specimen they want, they write down the price they're willing to pay on a slip and place it upside down in the basket.
The ballot-counting personnel send the signal to reveal the amounts on the bidding slips. The slip with the highest amount of money gets the right to purchase the fish. Of course, popular fish get covered in these ballots!
The fishing, the selection, and the auction are all done in a short period of time, thus keeping the fish fresh. Usually, the whole process finishes by noon.
From this point on, the fish is in the wholesalers’ hands. The fresh product is distributed to supermarkets, retail shops, and finally, to consumers.
Strict Inspections to Ensure Safe Products
A screening inspection is held in Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama). This is a process that is not practiced at ports in other prefectures in Japan.
All marketplaces in Fukushima Prefecture conduct a special screening inspection for all fish caught that day to determine whether or not it is safe for consumption.
Operation tests began in Fukushima in 2012. All inspection results are listed on the official webpage of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations (Japanese).
Safety inspections are carried out at the building next to the marketplace. The process is open for public viewing via glass windows. The fish being inspected are minced in the front room and undergo testing in the back room
Japanese law states that no more than 100 Becquerel of radioactive Caesium is allowed per 1kg for food and drinks. This regulation is much stricter compared to other countries’ rules, including the United States (1,200 Becquerel per kg) and the European Union (1,250 Becquerel per kg).
In addition, the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations has set even stricter rules which allow only up to 50 Becquerel per kg of radioactive substance. If there is a fish that exceed this amount, that species is cut off from distribution.
|Region||Standard Limit for Radioactive Caesium in Food|
|European Union||1,250 Becquerel/kg|
|United States||1,200 Becquerel/kg|
|Fukushima Prefecture||50 Becquerel/kg|
If there is more than 25 Becquerel per kg in a fish caught in Fukushima Prefecture, the same fish will undergo secondary inspection.
More than 99% of inspections end without any irregularities, and there is no radioactive Caesium present in these fish. Still, the amount of fish caught in Fukushima Prefecture still hasn’t recovered or surpassed the amount of fish that were caught before the earthquake. The fishing industry faces a large obstacle in starting again.
Fighting a Damaged Reputation
“What we managed to build over years gets destroyed by the media. It always ends up like that.”
Those are the words of Toru Takahashi, a fisherman working in Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama).
The ocean and fish here are thriving. Even if we catch the same amount of fish as we used to, news about pollution and radiation sets us back. It has already been seven years since the accident, but the rumors are still circulating."
Mr. Takahashi acts as a leader for the fishermen of Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama). He was born in Soma and has been a fisherman since age 15. Mr. Takahashi has been in the fishing business for nearly 50 years and is frustrated at the situation.
“If there are two fish of the same species, but one was caught at some other bay, the two will be compared. The one caught at the other bay in Japan is usually chosen over the one caught in Fukushima. Even if the data prove its safety, as soon as “Fukushima” is mentioned, consumers won’t even try it.”
“Everybody is talking about "restoration," and "rehabilitation," but we are still at the steps before this. It’s "revival." The fishing industry in Soma could be over if nothing changes. The situation is urgent.”
Exquisite Fish Leading to the Future
“But, all is not lost. When compared to before the earthquake, the fish caught in nets has almost doubled. We think there is still a chance to succeed,” says Mr. Takahashi with hope.
One more species of fish deemed safe to consume is one type of fish we can catch. When compared to 2012, when restoration first started, and there were only three species safe to catch. Today, almost all of species are safe for consumption.
Right after the earthquake, only 160 tons of fish were caught in Soma. That number was 3,000 tons in 2017. The trade value for fish is also steadily reaching the standard prior to the earthquake.
Mr. Takahashi’s boat Myojinmaru
The boats are lined up at the docks of Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama) just like the night before. One is the Myojinmaru, Mr. Takahashi’s boat.
When the tsunami hit after the 2011 earthquake, Mr. Takahashi lost his fishing boat to the waves. Myojinmaru, which he uses today, was built with the funds he received from the government. He entrusts Myojinmaru with his two sons.
From left to right: Hirotaka, the second son, Mr. Takahashi, Takumi, the eldest son
Mr. Takahashi decided to retire in 2017, after spending almost 50 years as a fisherman.
“We must pave the way for the younger generation.”
These words show his dedication to protecting the waters around Soma with the help of the next generations.
Mr. Takahashi, his sons, and the other fishermen are full of hope as they sail out to the open sea. They are fighting to recover the fishing industry and see it progress.
An Unforgettably Delicious Taste
“All you have to do is try it. Once you’ve tasted it you will understand how delicious it is."
These are the words of Mr. Kanji Tachiya, a representative of the Soma Futaba Fishing Industry Association: “The fish from Soma is first-class, in both looks and meatiness. It was once called joban-mono."
Fish from Soma has been known for many years for its quality, and famous all over the country. This fish has also been displayed in the best part of Tsukiji Market. The taste is impeccable. It is safe. All you have to do is try it for yourself.
Mr. Tachiya put the trust in his words. ”You won't be able to forget the flavor of Soma-caught fish after you've tried it."
Go to Soma and Try the Fish!
You can savor fish from Soma at a restaurant near the Matsukawa-ura Bay (Haragama). One of them is Asahitei (Japanese), mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Customers living far away visit regularly here to dine on the wonderful fish here.
Come and try one of Fukushima’s most delicious joban-mono that is the pride and joy of the fishermen.
All pictures by Shiho Kito
In cooperation with Soma Futaba Fishing Industry Association, Mr. Toru Takahashi, Asahitei
Sponsored by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry