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Breeders of Popular Japanese Carp in Murky Waters after China Suddenly Halts Imports

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors view nishikigoi carp at the Nishikigoi no Sato exhibition facility in Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture. Many Chinese tourists visit the facility.

The sudden and unexplained decision by China to halt imports from Japan of the popular carp known as “nishikigoi” has dealt a major blow to breeders in Niigata Prefecture, the largest producer of the decorative fish from which it originated.

About 60% of the colorful carp are bred for export, of which 19% goes to China. The Chinese side offered no explanation for putting a hold on imports from this month, and carp farmers are hoping for an early resumption.

“This has caused a great deal of damage, and individually there is nothing we can do,” said an exasperated Futoshi Mano, 50, representative of Dainichi Koi Farm, a nishikigoi carp breeder in Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture.

The company has focused its sales efforts on China, where the carp has gained popularity as a bringer of good luck or as pets. In 2019, it obtained a direct export license as a carp breeding facility from Chinese authorities.

Mano also is chairman of the All Japan Nishikigoi Promotion Association’s subcommittee on exports to China.

Nishikigoi carp exports have surged in recent years, reaching a total value of ¥6.3 billion in 2022, more than doubling in a decade. By country and region, China accounts for the largest proportion of total exports with 19%.

According to the association, in addition to wealthy owners, ordinary citizens began keeping carp — albeit with smaller, cheaper breeds — in their homes as a way to achieve peace of mind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The carp exports had continued even after China banned all seafood imports from Japan in August in response to the discharge of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.

However, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and other sources said that when the permit of a quarantine facility in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, expired at the end of October, it effectively brought a halt to exports of the carp.

There have been no reported outbreak of herpes virus or other diseases in the Niigata carp. A large-scale business fair was held in Ojiya on Nov. 4-5 that attracted many buyers from Europe, Southeast Asia and other areas.

Chinese permits are valid for three years, but the one for Mano’s facility was not renewed after expiring in March. When Mano applied for a renewal, but has yet to receive a reply from the Chinese authorities.

“I have to start thinking about exporting to other regions,” Mano said.

One Chinese exporter in Japan lamented, “Since this involves negotiations between countries, I suppose current diplomatic relations has some effect. I want to get my license renewed just like the Japanese traders.”

Total exports of nishikigoi carp bred in Niigata Prefecture amount to ¥3.2 billion. “It’s an important market,” Niigata Gov. Hideyo Hanazumi said of exports to China. “I need to consider how to respond in conjunction with the government.”

Meanwhile, Nagaoka Mayor Tatsunobu Isoda met with the consul general of the Consulate General of China in Niigata on Nov. 20, saying, “We would appreciate any effort you can make to help resume the exports.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun