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Spring marked by squid in Japan bay

Kosai restaurant in Namerikawa, Japan, serves two kinds of hotaruika sashimi: a thawed frozen version (front) and another with the internal organs removed. Japan News-Yomiuri
Kosai restaurant in Namerikawa, Japan, serves two kinds of hotaruika sashimi: a thawed frozen version (front) and another with the internal organs removed. Japan News-Yomiuri

Spring marked by squid in Japan bay

JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI - In Toyama Bay, it is just about prime fishing season for hotaruika, otherwise known as firefly squid.

Already well known for its rich flavour, which goes well with vinegared miso or pickled in a soy sauce-based mixture, the squid has also attracted attention in recent years for its high nutritional value.

Once spring arrives, hotaruika come to Toyama Bay to spawn. Namerikawa, Toyama prefecture, boasts the largest haul of the squid in the prefecture. Local fisherman Kazuhito Mizuhashi said they “try to maintain the resource” by catching firefly squid when they return to the deep sea after spawning.

In early March, this reporter was offered a ride on a boat heading out for fixed-net fishing. The job involved a “parent” vessel and “child” vessel working in tandem.

The boats left port amid complete darkness at 3:30am to head for a spot 1 to 2 kilometers out at sea. First, the child vessel closed the net’s opening and took a position facing the parent vessel with the net between them. Next, the fishermen carefully pulled the net in by hand so as not to damage the hotaruika.

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Once spring arrives, hotaruika squid come to Japan’s Toyama Bay to spawn. Japan News-Yomiuri

That day, the haul included more than 3 kilograms of firefly squid and a large number of sardines as well. The vessels returned to port by 5am, where the catch was immediately bid on and sent for processing. The hotaruika season peaks around April and lasts until June.

Hotaruika have roughly the same amount of vitamin A as kabayaki grilled eel fillets, research by Toyama College Professor Hiroyuki Takeuchi shows. The squid are also rich in vitamin B12, which helps prevent anemia, and taurine, which strengthens liver function.

The Toyama-ken Hotaruika Kyokai, an association made up of local fishermen and others, encourages consumers to eat firefly squid on the mid-spring Day of the Ox, which falls on April 27 this year.

“It’s great to eat hotaruika around when the seasons change, which is when people tend to get sick,” said Ryoji Tanaka, an executive at the Toyama prefectural federation of fishing cooperatives. “In addition to popular cooking methods, such as boiling them in salted water, you can also add them to pasta or pizza.”

Now there is a new addition: eating hotaruika raw as sashimi. However, due to reports that parasites have been found in their internal organs, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry recommends eating the squid after its internal organs have been removed.

The Hotaruika Museum, located next to the Namerikawa Port, houses the restaurant Kosai, which serves both variations of hotaruika sashimi until April 13.

Hotaruika caught off Toyama prefecture are usually boiled in salted water before being shipped nationwide, while some vendors deliver frozen squid. Boat services that let tourists see hotaruika being caught are available through May 6 in Namerikawa. Visitors can also get a firsthand look at how hotaruika emit blue fluorescent light at the Hotaruika Museum, as freshly caught squid are on display there throughout the season.

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