We go to Japan....

Fish, shellfish, sea plants - aquaculture has been practiced in Asia for millennia. So Marsden Brewer and his son Bobby traveled to Mutsu Bay to check out the scallop farming industry there in Aomori, Japan. 

They were warmly welcomed. Ever since the wreck of the Bath-built Chesborough off the coast of Shariki in 1889 there has been a Maine-Aomori sister-state relationship.

The Brewers and the Maine delegation of fishermen and aquaculturists  learned about the latest techniques, machinery, environmental factors, scientific and management support etc  that have made Japan’s scallop aquaculture industry world leaders. 

Among their hosts was Hiroaki Sugiyama, an inventor and manufacturer of high-tech machinery used in Japan’s enormous scallop aquaculture industry.

Dana Morse, Maine Sea Grant, was part of the group inspecting the machinery the Japanese have devised. Scallops arrive at processing facilities by the truckload. There they are fed into a hopper that feeds a steam tunnel. The meats and shells are then separated with a shaker. The meats then drop onto a conveyer in a cold water bath. The scallops are frozen and put into inventory for a few weeks to keep the plant running during bad weather before they are processed for sale.  

The Japanese scallop is Patinopecten yessoensis, also referred to as the Ezo scallop.

What size would you like, Bob? 

Mutsu Bay produces roughly 90,000 metric tons of scallops annually. Hokkaido produces approximately 400,000 metric tons. Mutsu Bay opens northward to the Tsugaru Strait, between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. About 600 vessels are involved in the scallop industry on Mutsu Bay alone.

Of approximately 2,000 individuals employed on the water there, many are family operations. Commonly the boat crew consists of husband, wife, and one or more of their children. 

This pattern solves many of aqauculture's potential problems of scale. Out on the water, the crucial habitat which must not be over-disturbed, individaul owner-operated boats much like our Maine lobster boats are the rule. The processing plants on land, however, are scaled up. Here it is appropriate to make decisions on the basis of economy and technology.    

Since scallops do not tolerate much exposure to light and air or handling, various items of on board equipment are used to do the sorting and grading quickly and efficiently. Sea creatures are scrubbed off the scallop shells, which are then returned to the sea for further maturing. The array of equipment used on board seems feasible for Maine fishermen. 

While processing plants are of considerable size, Japanese fishermen demonstrate that they can operate succesfully at a manageble and practical scale. Observing this successful aquaculture pattern certainly was encouraging for the Maine delegation.  

Photographs courtesy of Dana Morse