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'Shinshu Salmon' farmed in landlocked Nagano Pref. becomes Japan's top local brand

A worker processes Shinshu Salmon at the Tatsumi plant in Azumino, Nagano Prefecture, in December 2019. (Mainichi/Kristina Gan)

NAGANO -- "Shinshu Salmon" cultured in Nagano Prefecture is a pioneer of locally cultured salmon brands across Japan, despite being raised in a landlocked part of the country known more for its mountains.

However, Shinshu Salmon had to swim through many twists and turns before it became the largest local salmon brand by production in all of Japan.

In Nagano Prefecture, a large volume of rainbow trout had traditionally been cultured for export to the United States. However, U.S. demand for the Nagano trout declined sharply after 1971's "Nixon Shock," named for economic policy measures implemented by then U.S. President Richard Nixon.

Local rainbow trout growers shifted their sights to the domestic market, but market prices kept falling largely because of fish's declining popularity among Japanese consumers.

To revitalize the local fishery, in 1994 the Nagano Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station in the prefectural city of Azumino began efforts to develop new local products. There were also growing calls among local aquafarmers for the development of unique locally produced fish that could be eaten raw as sashimi.

After about 10 years of trial and error, the station succeeded in developing Shinshu Salmon by crossbreeding the rainbow trout and the brown trout. In about two to three years, the new breed grows to 2 to 3 kilograms. Since Shinshu Salmon cannot reproduce, the fish does not need the nutritional resources to make eggs. Moreover, the fish looks good, and is resistant to diseases that often infect rainbow trout.

Masao Takahara, head of Tatsumi, shows off products made from Shinshu Salmon at the company's second plant in Ikeda, Nagano Prefecture, on Dec. 12, 2019. (Mainichi/ Kristina Gan)

Masao Takahara, 77, head of Shinshu aquafarming firm Tatsumi in Azumino, which also processes the fish and markets the final products, recalled, "The prefectural government wasn't initially enthusiastic about promoting sales of the new breed, and the fish had no name recognition. So it was hard."

While rainbow trout can be shipped after being cultured for about a year, it takes about three years before Shinshu Salmon can be sold. Moreover, as Shinshu Salmon grow to 50 to 60 centimeters long, producers need larger aquaculture ponds to farm the fish. While some producers abandoned Shinshu Salmon and returned juvenile fish, Takahara and other enthusiastic producers promoted the fish at business conventions for local specialty goods.

In 2010, local producers founded an association to promote Shinshu Salmon with the aim of preventing taste and quality deviations, and promoting sales of the fish. Takahara, who has headed the association since its founding, is confident of the product. "If you try the fish, you'll certainly find it tastes good," he said.

The meat of Shinshu Salmon is delicate, fine and smooth, and easy to eat for those who usually do not like sashimi. Takahara is enthusiastic about processing Shinshu Salmon into sushi and smoked salmon, and is developing Shinshu Salmon for shabu-shabu, or thin slices for parboiling in hot soup.

"You can't make anything that tastes bad," Takahara declared.

According to the Nagano Prefectural Government, the shipment volume of Shinshu Salmon increased about 11-fold from 38 metric tons in its initial production year in fiscal 2005 to 415 tons in fiscal 2018.

The prefectural fisheries experimental station increased the number of Shinshu Salmon juvenile fish it supplies to aquafarmers by some 3,400 to approximately 400,000 in fiscal 2019.

Shinshu Salmon is supplied mainly to accommodation facilities and restaurants in the prefecture. However, the fisheries experimental center is aiming to increase the shipment volume to 450 tons by fiscal 2022 in a bid to increase the fish's market presence in Japan's urban centers.

(Japanese original by Kristina Gan, Nagano Bureau)

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