Grilled, raw, stewed, dried, fermented, fried: squid has long been consumed with abundance in Japan, appearing in countless everyday dishes.
Now, however, Japan’s long-running love affair with squid is in danger, with growing reports that catches this season have hit a record low, causing prices to soar.
A drop in volumes of squid caught by Japanese fisherman has been attributed by experts to a combination of overfishing and rising sea temperatures due to climate change.
One region hit particularly hard is Hakodate on Japan’s northernmost island Hokkaido, a so-called “squid town” which has long enjoyed nationwide fame as a hub for all things squid, in particular the popular Pacific flying squid.
Despite peak squid fishing season normally taking place from June to January, as many as 90 per cent of Hakodate’s 20-strong fleet of squid fishing vessels have remained in port since October due to record low catches, according to Kyodo news agency.
“There’s no squid,” Toyoji Sato, of Hakodate, who has been fishing squid for more than 50 years, told Kyodo. “This is the first time I’ve ended fishing this early. Fuel costs are also high, so if I take my boat out I just sink deeper into debt.”
Japan has long loved consuming squid in countless forms, from ikameshi, which involves simmering the seafood with rice inside, to shiokara, a particularly pungent but popular appetiser made from fermented squid innards.
The statistics in Hakodate paint a particularly bleak picture of a squid industry in decline: fishermen reportedly caught 61,000 tonnes of Pacific flying squid in 2017, marking a 13 per cent drop compared to the previous year – and less than 30 per cent of the total squid catch 10 years earlier.
Many of the 70 seafood processing companies in Hakodate alone are opting to diversify in the face of squid shortages, switching a focus onto alternative maritime products.
Numerous businesses specialising in the production of squid-related treats have also been impacted by rising wholesale prices, which are reported to have doubled compared to the average year.
Mikiya, a company famed for producing shredded squid snacks, which once depended on products sourced at its base in Hakodate, now secures up to 50 per cent of its squid from outside Japan, including Argentina, Kyodo reports.
Yasunori Sakurai, professor of Fisheries Sciences at Hokkaido University and chair of the Hakodate Cephalopod Research Centre, has been warning fishermen about the potentially dangerous impact of climate change on Japan’s squid population for nearly two decades.
Speaking to Reuters last year, he blamed the decline of squid on climate change resulting in a cold snap in waters where squid traditional spawn and rising temperatures in the Sea of Japan to where they migrate.