Amid the volcanic peaks and hot springs of southern Japan, something fishy is emerging.
It’s sturgeon roe, also known as caviar, the payoff from an aquaculture experiment that began with fish imported from the Soviet Union three decades ago.
Japan hopes the new source of the dark delicacy, kilogram upon kilogram of it, will propel the country into the top ranks of suppliers of the premium product.
For the first time, the eggs are about to be shipped overseas to compete with the Russian and Iranian caviar that dominate the high-end market, Bloomberg reported.
Fumiho Hamanaka, 71, is the proud owner of 5,000 white sturgeon.
The big fish take at least eight years to reach maturity, when they are almost 1.5 meters long.
Their eggs can fetch as much as 1,000 yen (US$8.28) a gram.
A large fish can yield as much as 3.5 kilograms of caviar, 50 percent more than normal, as well as some fish fillets that will cost more on dinner plates than most beef.
“I’ll have a toast tonight with my wife to our bumper harvest,” Hamanaka said at the processing plant in Miyazaki prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu.
Miyazaki, already a big producer of beef and pork, began studying sturgeon farming in 1983 using fish sent from the former Soviet Union.
While those breeding efforts failed, the prefecture eventually found success with white sturgeon imported from North America.
Miyazaki’s government-run research institute mass-produced fry from eggs in 2011, and commercial harvesting began in 2013.
Domestic caviar is already being served at Michelin-starred French restaurants in Tokyo and sold at high-end department stores in the swanky Ginza shopping district.
But the big payoff is the export market.
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