Salmon takes over as top table treat in Japan

Salmon has overtaken horse mackerel as the most popular fish for Japanese people to eat, due largely to improvements in freezing technology that have raised the quality of imports as well as housewives' preference for a fish that is easy to prepare.

The government released a study on fish consumption on May 21 in which salmon emerged as the most popular to eat at home, followed by squid and tuna, all of which are straightforward to turn into a meal.

In 1965, salmon was not in the top five as it was much harder to find good quality fish because it deteriorated in quality as it was being shipped to Japan. Forty-five years ago, the most popular fish were horse mackerel, followed by squid and mackerel, all of which were abundant in waters surrounding Japan.

It is a similar story in Japan's ubiquitous sushi shops, where salmon is the top seller - although that is more likely to be due to the rising price of tuna.

Conservationists failed earlier this year at the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to impose a ban on the international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna to preserve breeding stock, due primarily to vigorous lobbying by the Japanese government. So while sushi restaurants' stocks are safe for the time being, there is concern that continued over-fishing may lead to the extinction of the species entirely.

That conclusion was reinforced earlier this month, when a team from Japan's Mie University reported that Pacific bluefin tuna face a similar fate to their Atlantic cousins.

The government report on the popularity of fish also identified the growing trend for people to serve raw fish at home - either as sashimi, when the fish is simply sliced and served with grated radish and soy sauce, or as sushi, when it is served atop a pat of rice - instead of going to the bother of cooking fish.