“Fish is wonderful but humans make fish bad” by Y. Arai, the managing director

Live fish represents transportation techniques that were shaped by freshness-oriented Japanese food culture, such as Sashimi and Sushi. HIRO Inc., as a provider of live fish, is taking original and innovative measures. We asked about it to Mr. Arai, the managing director of HIRO.

Could you tell me about the most important thing for you?

It’s freshness.

Could you tell me the reason for it?

There is no food more delicious than fresh fish. The taste of fish that you eat at fishing ports is wonderful, isn’t it? Our job is delivering live fish to our customers and it is our utmost mission to keep freshness of them.

Could you tell me about the key to maintaining freshness?

It is keeping a natural environment for fish. Fish are living in oceans but often pulled out from oceans, pushed into small cages and transported for long distances for the convenience of humans. This causes much stress to fish and promotes the creation of lactic acid, which makes the taste of fish bad.

We have to change our behaviors for the benefit of fish rather than prioritizing our own benefit.

What is the most important thing to prevent the stress to fish?

Water, facilities and our mindset. We have to prepare the best condition for fish and adjust our behaviors for the convenience of fish.

Could you tell me about the water condition?

We can use clean water because we are located near open fishing areas. The water intake is located 6 meters below the bottom of the sea and we can use germ-free water filtered by stones. The water is cool in summer and warm in winter, so we can maintain the best condition for fish.

After drawing water, we filter it with coral, active carbon fibers and oysters. We use one filter machine for two reserves to maintain quality water.

You have various facilities. What is the center of them?

It is fish-reserves. They are so important for fish companies that we are often referred to as live-fish companies. We have specially designed fish-reserves to realize our policy.

Could you tell me about original fish-reserves that you ordered specially?

Special attention to temperature

We have a special machine that controls temperature by as little as 0.1 degrees. The only two similar machines exist in east-Japan. Each fish has a unique preference to temperature depending on its kind and birth place. We change temperature so all fish feel comfortable.

Special attention to water circulation

We have round-shaped fish-reserves so water circulates smoothly. This circulation resembles natural one. The power of circulation is adjusted to the level that the most vulnerable fish, sardines, feel comfortable. This allows all kinds of fish to feel comfortable and round-shaped reserves creates natural environment.

Special attention to the color of fish

We separate the fish living in the surface of the sea from the fish living in the bottom of the sea. The former have blue color because of the reflection of sun light, so we put them in the blue-colored reserves. The latter, on the other hand, reflect the color of soil, so we put them to brownish reserves. This makes the most comfortable environment for fish.

Special attention to the density of fish

We are maintaining a half density of fish compared with that of other companies. The average density is 10% but that of us is 5%. Fish feel stress when living in a too dense area as much as we do. Thanks to various researches, we reached to the conclusion that 5% density is the best for fish. From the profit-oriented perspective, many prefer too dense reserves but we have a particular preference to 5% density. This is all for our fish.

Don’t you think such a low density causes huge damage to your company’s profitability?

From a short term perspective, it is right. But in the long run, this can bring us a lot. We prefer long-term transactions with our customers and this is much more profitable given the cost needed to find new customers. To achieve this goal, it is imperative for us to supply fresh products and gain the trust from our customers.

What is the most important thing when you move fish from fish-reserves to fish-cars?

It is moving fish to fish-cars as soon as possible.

Why?

Fish is marine life and suffers greatly without water just as we suffer without the air. We are trying to minimize such suffering to fish.

What are you doing for that?

We specially designed our facilities so we can park fish-cars near fish-reserves. This expedites moving processes. We also matched the height of the floors with that of fish-cars so we can minimize the time needed for moving. This, at the same time, allows us to minimize the shocks to the fish.

We also use knot-free nets when moving fish from reserves to cars, which prevents fish from getting hurt.

Our floors are made from FRP.

That is news to me! Why don’t you use concrete?

Fish get hurt when falling into concrete floors. To prevent this, we specially ordered FRP-floors. FRP is a wonderful material that absorbs shocks and has enough strength.

What would you do after moving fish to cars?

We wait for 3 hours while changing water so fish get accustomed to the new environment.

Why?

If you start the cars, this causes much stress to fish. Furthermore, fish often swim around because of the new environment. It takes at least 3 hours for fish to feel comfortable.

How do you carry fish with fish-cars?

We pay attention to minimize the shock to fish. We start cars slowly and never hit the brakes.

How do you deliver fish to your clients?

We give fish to them after making sure of the comfortable environment for fish. After arriving to our clients, we check the temperature and water quality. If the temperature is undesirable, we adjust it. If water is dirt, we change it. Our deliverers are educated to duly manage the quality of water plants of our clients.

Why do you have such dedication?

Because we’d like to maintain the freshness of our fish until they reached to our customers. Our sincere attitude encourages our clients to treat fish more carefully. If customers feel the fish tasty, the business of our clients will thrive, which increases orders to us.

What kinds of efforts are you making in the field of fresh fish?

We put fish down while taking into account the time when they are cooked in restaurants. We use a technique called “ikejime” to maintain freshness.

What kinds of methods are you taking in “ikejime”?

We minimize the time needed for fish to reach brain death. It is efficient to move many fish from reserves to working tables but this increases the time for brain death and causes a lot of stress to fish. We move fish diligently so we can minimize the time for brain death.

What kinds of efforts are you making after that?

We do a set of procedures; cutting the medulla oblongata and the base of the tail for extracting blood, extracting nerves with the air, cooling fish in ice water, extracting blood. To expedite this operation, we put a container filled with ice water near a working table, both of which are the same height. To match their height, I invented an original machine and had it made specially.

You are paying much attention to your work. What makes you do so?

I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes that we did. In the past, we mistakenly let all fish die and one of my client returned all fish to us. To prevent the same mistakes, we have been seeking the cause of them and taking various preventive measures just as investigators retrieve a voice recorder from a clashed air plane.

You are exporting and importing overseas. Is there any special effort here?

We purchased special containers for live fish 3 year ago. No other company in Japan has the same one.

Why don’t they have the same ones?

Because the container is difficult to use and more prone to accidents. The water plants in it always need oxygen and pumps, which supply oxygen, need battery. After loading it into a ship, it is up to the crews whether or not to turn on the power. In fact, the negligence of crews is triggering a spate of accidents.

How are you dealing with such an accident?

We invented an original container that reduces the accidents. We would lost much trust from our clients if all fish died during shipment. Thanks to the original containers, we have almost no accident and our reputation has been increasing.

What kinds of business are you doing with that containers?

We are currently trading with Korea. We import flatfish from Korea and export parrot fish to it with the same containers.

Could you tell me the next plan?

We are going to expand our business to Hong Kong and Singapore. Our dream is providing Asian people with delicious Sushi and Sashimi at the same level as they eat them in Japan.

Also we are planning trilateral trade. For instance, we export Japanese fish to Singapore, then Singapore exports fish to Korea with the same containers. We are proud of the fact that we can do safe trade with risk-free containers.

Detailed attention is the key to freshness, isn’t it? Lastly, could you tell us about the mindset?

Mindset is very important. Our work is not mechanical. This is because machines cannot feel the sense of living creatures. We can feel tiny changes of fish and take necessary measures to reduce their stress.

It is difficult for our staffs to perfectly master the ways to treat fish and they need to repeat the same routines many times in order to gain a subtle sense.

I love fish. For the sake of fish, I’ll never give up and keep teaching.

It is understandable that staffs of HIRO call fish “my dear”.
Thank you for wonderful talk!

Interviewed by Jyunitiroh Nakagawa