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November 25, 2016

Iceland ash cloud hits sushi

By Stuart Turner

Flights in the UK have been grounded on and off by the massive volcanic eruptions in Iceland and the effects of the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud can be felt even further afield.

The grounded flights have cause chaos for fish traders and sushi restaurants in Japan as it has affected imports of prized Norwegian salmon; a delicacy to the Japanese sushi lover.

Seafood traders on markets like Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market have been forced to turn to places as far flung as New Zealand to source stocks of Pacific salmon even though many clients prefer the Atlantic salmon's delicate texture and mild taste.

Usually, 90 per cent of Japan’s Atlantic salmon comes from Norway by air. Fresh salmon is far more popular and valuable than frozen produce which is why air travel is essential. As many flights have been unable to get through because of the volcanic ash cloud, salmon stocks are low which has cost implications for the wholesale traders.

Norwegian salmon is served raw for sushi and sashimi in some of the country’s top restaurants and the roe is used for a variety of sushi such as gunkanmaki and temaki rolls and it is also a regular topping on delicious nigiri. It is also sometimes grilled in steaks and served as a standalone main dish.

In February, Japan imported 1,400 tonnes of Atlantic salmon from Norway compared with 150 tonnes from the rest of the world which shows how popular it is. This amount of imported salmon is worth one billion yen or more than £700,000. One major importer in Tokyo told American journalists that, when the volcano first erupted, his company lost 30 million yen (roughly £220,000), in days which is a third of its monthly turnover.

Japan has had to look to New Zealand, Australia and Chile to meet demand with Pacific salmon, even though this is far less popular with consumers and the top sushi chefs. Luckily, here in the UK we have easy access to this fish which is so prized in Japan and the same goes in Iceland itself which is famed for its seafood and has recently seen a surge in the number of sushi restaurants. Iceland has finally caught on to what the Japanese has known for years about the quality of Northern European fish and sushi is now one of the most popular foreign cuisines in the capital Reykjavik.

So it is not just the UK and Europe that continues to be frustrated by the Icelandic volcano as Japanese sushi lovers are also having to compromise. While we are lucky to have the freshest Atlantic salmon on our doorstep and are struggling to leave the country by plane, it may be the ideal time to call up some friends and serve up some delicious sushi and sashimi while we wait for nature to take its course.


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