Photo/IllutrationA “sakura-ebi” shrimp has roe next to its head off Suruga Bay in Shizuoka. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

SHIZUOKA--The fishing season for “sakura-ebi” shrimp in Suruga Bay was canceled because of plummeting adult populations in the species, dealing a harsh blow to communities here where the tiny creatures are a signature product.

Sakura-ebi are popular ingredients in “kakiage” tempura or sashimi dishes, and Shizuoka Prefecture says 100 percent of those caught in Japan come from Suruga Bay.

“It is the first time for us to (suspend catches of sakura-ebi) since the end of World War II,” an executive of the Shizuoka prefectural fishing cooperative for sakura-ebi said with tears in his eyes at a Dec. 13 news conference here. “We really are finding it difficult to recover the (natural) resource.”

The decision to scrap the autumn fishing season was based on standards set in 1977 under a resource conservation system introduced for all fishing vessels in the community.

That system stipulates that fishing for the species is allowed if less than 33 percent of sakura-ebi are juveniles under 35 millimeters in size.

But an analysis on about 1,300 sakura-ebi caught on Dec. 10 showed that 63 to 76 percent of them were juveniles. The test was conducted by the prefecture-run fishing technology research institute located in Yaizu.

In fact, four analyses for the autumn fishing season showed that the adult population of the shrimp was insufficient for fishing.

The autumn fishing season usually runs from late October through Dec. 24. The start of the season this year was postponed for the tests, and it was completely called off after the final results were revealed.

The annual volume of sakura-ebi caught in the autumn season has ranged from 200 to 500 tons over the past 15 years. Those figures were only 20 to 50 percent of the hauls during the more lucrative spring seasons.

But the spring season this year was a disappointment, with a record-low 312 tons of sakura-ebi caught. And now, no shrimp will be caught in the autumn season.

“We apologize to people who were looking forward to (buying our sakura-ebi),” Takeshi Mochizuki, chief of the cooperative, said, addressing the concerns of consumers, restaurant operators and processors at the news conference held at the Yui port fishing cooperative office in the city’s Shimizu Ward.

The Yui fishing port is the site of an annual sakura-ebi festival held in May. It has consistently drawn numerous visitors, even from Tokyo.

Mochizuki expressed optimism for a rebound in the shrimp, citing the high ratio of juvenile shrimp in autumn.

“We have high expectations for the next spring fishing season,” he said.

However, an official of the prefectural government’s marine resource department said additional rules should apply to ensure a sustainable population of the species, as such shrimp start laying eggs around June.

“Considering the (cooperative’s) intention of halting catches of sakura-ebi, some countermeasures will probably be needed during the spring fishing season next year,” the official said.

The official said the prefecture will share scientific findings from the fishing technology research institute with people in the fishing industry. Shizuoka Prefecture also plans to continue talks with industry officials on measures to support a recovery of the marine resource and the fishing business, he said.

“We have been patient to that extent,” Masanori Jitsuishi, another executive of the cooperative, said. “We want to recover the resources by regulating fishing during the next spring season.”

In summer this year, a Shizuoka restaurant, where kakiage tempura with sakura-ebi is a popular dish, ran out of the shrimp caught in the spring season and was forced to use imports from Taiwan.

“Sakura-ebi caught in Taiwan have less flavor and their taste is not as deep compared with those from Suruga Bay,” the restaurant owner said.

Although her customers are satisfied with Taiwanese sakura-ebi, she is disappointed with the cancelation of the autumn fishing season.

“We were expecting fresh ones,” she said. “But what can we do?”

(This article was written by Takuro Noguchi and Junko Miyasako.)