Looking back at 2018, scuba diving and aquaculture scored big in Japan. This month on the blog is a quick look at what last year was like for two of Japan’s marine and science fields.
In aquaculture, innovation loomed large in terms of systems that aim to create more sustainable fish farming and streamline operations. From cloud computing to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things, new technologies, products, machines, facilities and systems are dramatically transforming relatively new industries like aquaculture, making huge impacts on growth and development. Such innovations are extremely significant for the future of farm production, management and risk mitigation strategies.
2018 could be characterised as the year of land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) in Japan. FRD Japan in Saitama City is working to establish cost-effective inland salmon farming, which could enable Japanese consumers to buy quality homegrown salmon whenever they like. Farming salmon at sea off Japan is a complicated prospect, as the ocean needs to be colder than 20C with no strong waves and currents, while inland farming is seen as impractical and expensive, requiring lots of water and electricity.
But FRD is working to convert simple tap water to seawater using artificial sea salt, which will allow its system to be used in any location that has tap water. The firm has also established a technology involving bacteria that can clean water by consuming the ammonia that’s produced by the fish and dissolving nitric acid. Chief Operating Officer Tetsuro Sogo believes his firm will be the first successful example of this type of land-based salmon farming. FRD Japan is also scaling up by building a larger, pilot plant in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo. Its goal is to produce 1,500 MT of salmon slices by 2020, again using ordinary tap water.
(Photos below: FRD Chief Operating Officer Tetsuro Sogo monitors water conditions in his land-based salmon farm. Credit: FRD Japan)
Japan’s bluefin tuna farming has been well-known since Kindai University successfully raised the species in captivity back in 2002. Over the years, Japanese seafood giants such as Maruha Nichiro have also been rearing tuna, and at the end of last year, Maruha Nichiro announced plans to export its tuna to the EU for the first time. Since perfecting their tuna farming techniques, several other firms in Japan, including seafood distributor Kyokuyo, are also looking beyond the domestic market. The next challenge for the farmed tuna industry will be further boosts in production and gaining increased support from consumers who are interested in resource conservation.
(Photos by myself taken at Kindai University’s offshore tuna farm, tuna photos courtesy of Maruha Nichiro)
In Japan’s scuba diving, two areas stood out last year. The annual spawning ritual of firefly squid has been drawing scientists to Toyama Bay for years, and now scuba divers are joining in. Each spawning season, between March and late May, bioluminescent females swim to the surface to release their eggs in the early morning, flashing blue lights over their bodies in a variety of alternating patterns. There are few other opportunities to glimpse these unusual creatures because firefly squid usually remain out of sight, their physiology, life history and behaviour a mystery.
While researchers work to better understand these creatures and the chemistry of bioluminescence, more and more scuba divers have been venturing out on night dives to watch the popular light display. English-speaking groups in Tokyo have organised trips and guided dives, offering divers an opportunity to enjoy and photograph the glowing blue light show, as the ocean transforms into a galactic landscape.
Firefly squid aren’t the only marine creatures congregating in large groups off Japan’s ocean. Closer to Tokyo is a town called Tateyama in Chiba prefecture, adjacent to the capital. Popular with divers, Tateyama is home to species such as sea horses, purple coral and eels but these aren’t the only reason why divers flock here. Only 5 – 10 minutes by boat from the shore is Shark Scramble, where divers swim in shark-infested waters surrounded by banded houndsharks and red stingrays. The dive is actually a shark-feeding one, established after banded houndsharks were poaching fish from local fishermen’s nets. English-speaking guide Kan Shiota of dive shop Bommie started organising dives to feed the sharks and lure them away from the nets. Since then, he’s never looked back. Two boat dives cost ¥16,500 yen and 2018 saw just as many divers arriving as previous years.
What’s ahead for aquaculture and diving in Japan?
In aquaculture, a large portion of time will continue to be spent on testing, learning and incorporating product and process improvements. As Japan hosts two seafood shows this year, one in Tokyo and the other in Osaka, there will be ample opportunity to work with customers on new innovations. Further updates can also be expected from Japan in software enhancements that focus on data analysis and monitoring offshore farms remotely.
In scuba diving, The Marine Diving Fair will be held in Tokyo this April, and in recent years the number of exhibitors and visitors from other countries such as Thailand, the Maldives and Indonesia has been growing considerably. With Japan now taking part in dive expos abroad (Hachijojima dive shop Concolor attended a dive expo in Hong Kong last December), there is likely to be more communication with dive destinations outside Japan and for Japan’s diving to become even better known.
Looking forward to a prosperous 2019!