Japanese Scallops to Be Shucked in Mexico for U.S. Tables

Courtesy of JETRO
Local chambers of commerce members discuss the prospect of processing Japanese scallops in Ensenada, Mexico, in early November.

LOS ANGELES — The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is planning to build a new distribution route for Japanese scallops next year, with the shellfish to be processed in Mexico before they are shipped to the United States.

China, which used to be Japan’s top destination for scallops, stopped imports over the ocean discharge of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. JETRO aims to create a new processing hub for the U.S. market, as China had been the shucking the scallops.

Frozen scallops will be transported to Mexico, where they will be processed for raw consumption in the United States. With sushi and sashimi gaining popularity in the states, the goal is to boost scallop exports to the country. JETRO has already finished inspecting a seafood processing plant in Ensenada, northern Mexico, and is planning to ship scallops from there to Los Angeles and other U.S. destinations by road, expecting the shellfish to be consumed at high-end restaurants on the West Coast and elsewhere.

Most scallops produced in Japan are frozen in their shells and exported. They lose some freshness and flavor when they are refrozen after being thawed and processed. It takes about 4½ hours for trucks to travel from Ensenada to Los Angeles, and it is apparently possible to transport the product frozen without freezing over the distance, using refrigeration.

In the United States, imports of unprocessed clams from Japan are banned to prevent shellfish poisoning. This means scallops have to be shelled so just the inner muscle can be exported. If the shellfish are processed in Mexico, the labor cost will be about one seventh of that in the United States.

JETRO is thinking of processing scallops in other countries and territories as well, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan. But the scallops will likely lose freshness on the way to the United States, so they will only be good cooked.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, scallops were the second largest seafood export from Japan last year at about 127,800 tons, bringing in ¥91 billion. About 102,800 tons, or 80% of the total, were exported to China. JETRO is hoping to send more scallops to the United States, which bought some 1,900 tons last year.

U.S. statistics say the country imported about 7,900 tons of Japanese scallops last year, some 6,000 tons more than Japanese statistics. JETRO suspects most of the difference was from Japanese scallops processed in China and re-exported.