Nishikikoi breeders in Japan hope to resume exports to China

Nishikikoi, or decorative carp, Nov. 1, 2023 swims at the exhibition facility in Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture. (Kyoto)

TOKYO (Kyoto) – Two months after China halted imports of „nishikigoi” or ornamental carp from Japan, breeders have begun shipping their products elsewhere. Largest foreign market.

It is still unclear why Beijing took such a step. Some observers have speculated that it may be a reflection of Tokyo's decision last year to release treated radioactive water from the defunct Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, an action approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency but criticized by China.

The government is pushing China to resume trade involving ornamental carp, but Beijing has yet to respond and has offered no explanation for its move, farm ministry officials said.

The All Japan Nishikikoi Promotion Association said that although breeders hope to continue sending freshwater fish to China, they have no choice but to diversify export channels.

„Growers are in a difficult situation because China is such a big market,” said Sutomu Senuma, secretary general of the Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture-based Growers and Distributors Association.

By 2022, China will account for 19 percent of Japan's nishikigoi exports. The United States is second with 14 percent, Indonesia is third with 11 percent, and Thailand and Britain are fourth with 7 percent each, according to government data.

Hailed as „swimming jewels,” the beautifully dyed carp are in growing demand from overseas, with exports expected to double from a decade ago to 6.3 billion yen ($43 million) in 2022, data show.

„We are confused because China has not said anything,” Chennuma said by phone. „We are waiting for the resumption of exports, but we do not know the thinking of the Chinese authorities on this issue.”

Mitsunori Isa, head of Isa Koi Farm in Ogeya, regretted not being able to export his carp to China and said he was shifting his focus to developing markets in Southeast Asia — particularly Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Niigata is Japan's largest producer of nishikigoi, accounting for half of all exports, and is now part of the neighboring city of Nagoya, known as the birthplace of ojiya and fish.

„With the help of dealers, we are developing new markets like Cambodia and Myanmar,” Issa said in a separate phone interview. „We are also increasing our transactions with India and Sri Lanka.”

Isa's carp farm is one of 15 companies in Japan whose licenses for Isa and several other farms, valid for three years, expired in September 2021 without Beijing renewing them, while licenses for the remaining farms also expired automatically in March 2022.

Despite the deadline, Isa and other farms continued to export to China through a quarantine facility in Nagoya. But the three-year export contract China gave the facility expired on October 30, 2023, meaning breeders are no longer allowed to ship their nishikigoi to China.

China's share of Isa's farm sales was previously around 30 percent. Aisa said he did not recall Chinese authorities refusing to renew export permits before.

„I would like to see the resumption of nishikigoi exports to China,” he said.

The government has been urging China to renew licenses applied for by carp farms before the expiry date through the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – but there has been no response from Beijing, a ministry official said.

In 2022 the government designated nishikigoi as a priority export product and after setting a target of increasing the value of exports to 9.7 billion yen by 2025, China and Hong Kong together will have a total of 2 billion yen.

At a meeting in San Francisco last November, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to improve strategic ties of mutual benefit, but unilateral action against Beijing's import ban on Japanese fishery products in the wake of Tokyo's desalinated water release. Seen as no scientific basis.

Semuma did not comment on the rumored link between China's suspension of carp imports and the ban on Japanese seafood imports imposed by China in August last year after Beijing labeled it „nuclearly contaminated water”.

He said that one should not speak on the basis of guesswork. „For now, we'd better not provoke China. We'll try to diversify export channels as we watch the situation in China closely.”

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