Snow crab, also known as Opilio, has been a traditional winter delicacy in Japan for many ages. Yet during the October 2015 – May 2016 season, a 40% cut back on the Japanese fishing quota has led to a larger reliance on Alaskan snow crab imports. Studies show that due to low domestic supply of snow crab, the Japanese market is willing to turn to more expensive foreign vendors in order to meet local demands.
The US is the third largest exporter of snow crab to Japan, with Alaska as a main contributor. The US follows behind Russia and Canada in snow crab exports, the first and second largest exporters to Japan, respectively. During the winter season, Japanese imports of snow crabs rise 4% even while demand for other kinds of crab decreases, including the popular king crab, which saw a 46% decrease in Japanese imports in 2015 compared to the 2014 season. Alaska is ranked third on the list of states with the most exports to Japan, only 0.6% behind the highest ranked state, Hawaii. There was a reported overall $745 million in exports to Japan from Alaska, with $488.8 million in marine products alone.
Snow crabs aren’t the only aspect of international trade between Alaska and Japan. Historically, there has been an important relationship between Alaska and Japan with regards to Alaskan liquefied natural gas (LNG). When Alaskan liquefied natural gas became a steady export of the state, Japan was one of the first investors in the product. Alaska has been contributing to Japan’s overall import of liquefied natural gas since 1969 when Alaska first exported liquefied gas. The state of Alaska currently has nine sister cities with Japan, including the largest city Anchorage, and a record high of Japanese tourism in 2014 where tourists spent a total of $82,286,456 in the state.
Lian Eytinge is research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Southern California.