Student Hopes ‘ray Burger’ Can Solve Two Problems with One Fish

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ray burgers

MATSUE — Red stingrays have been troubling the fishing community of Lake Shinji and Nakaumi in Shimane Prefecture because the species interferes with eel and sea bass catches, in addition to eating up valuable clams. One local student heard of the problem and did something about the pest: Turn the rays into burger meat, brand it and make a new fish sandwich.

Akira Fukuda, a 25-year-old Shimane University graduate student, developed the “ray burger” featuring deep-fried red stingray meat. Fukuda debuted the sandwich on a trial basis on Dec. 13 at a booth at Michi-no-Eki Honjo, a roadside shopping and dining facility in Matsue. The burger went over so well that Fukuda is planning to brand and sell the product.

Having heard via word of mouth and social media of a novel “gourmet food using red stingray,” people formed a long line before the booth opened at 10 a.m.

The 100 ray burgers Fukuda had prepared to sell in the morning sold out in about an hour. After trying the sandwich, people noted that rays have a firmer texture than typical white-meat fish and found it delicious.

“I never expected so many people to be enticed by [the burger],” said Fukuda, a second-year graduate student.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Akira Fukuda, right, sells a ray burger to a customer at a food stall in Matsue in December.

Red stingrays mainly inhabit brackish waters and have poisonous thorns in their tails. They have a low market value. When fishermen catch rays, they either simply release the fish or eat it themselves, resulting in small quantities being sold in the market.

Fukuda, who is a student of agriculture at the university’s Graduate School of Natural Science and Technology, studied at a winery in France from November 2019 to September 2020 to learn the basics of wine branding.

Fukuda received financial support from companies in Matsue for his studies in France. After returning to Japan, he wanted to return the favor. Around that time, Fukuda heard from his friend Kaito Suzuki, 25, a company worker who does research on red stingrays, that greater numbers of the fish have been caught in nets in Lake Shinji and Nakaumi, an inland sea, in recent years.

Fukuda learned from Suzuki that red stingrays have been troubling fishermen by interfering with their eel and sea bass catches and eating clams, indicating a need for resource management to better the local fishing business.

Suzuki also told his friend that if they could find a way to use the fish as a food source and successfully brand it, fishermen would be motivated to catch and sell red stingrays. The product could also help revitalize the region.

Fukuda ran with Suzuki’s idea and developed foods using red stingrays. In addition to the ray burger, he created two other products: deep-fried stingray cartilage and a stingray cutlet of ground meat deep-fried in batter.

Despite having little funding for the project, Fukuda and Suzuki paid ¥300 to ¥400 for one kilogram of red stingray, which usually sells for ¥1 or ¥2 per kilogram.

Significantly raising the price was intentional. “Otherwise, this project won’t benefit local people,” Fukuda said.

Fukuda aims to start his own business by the end of March, before finishing graduate school.

“People hesitate to eat red stingray only because they haven’t eaten it before,” Fukuda said. “I’m sure they’ll like it once they try it.”

He is planning to sell the product at pop-up booths at various events so that many people can give red stingray a try.

“Ultimately, I want to make it a regular local specialty representing Shimane Prefecture, just like the Sasebo burger,” Fukuda said of the well-known sandwich from Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.