An In-Depth Look at Yamato's Fish Quality Analyzer

Lucy Towers
26 April 2016, at 1:00am

JAPAN - At this year's Seafood Expo North America, Yamato Scale Co., Ltd announced the release of its DFA100 Fish Analyzer. Currently only available in Japan, the device quickly evaluates fat levels of species such as mackerel pike, yellowtail, horse mackerel, tuna, amberjack and sardine. Bonnie Waycott reports for TheFishSite on how the DFA100 works and why it could eventually attract attention not just in Japan but also overseas.

Based in Akashi city in Hyogo Prefecture in the geographical centre of Japan, Yamato Scale Co., Ltd was founded in February 1920 as the Weighing Machine Division of Kawanishi Machine Works, before being established in December 1945. With 522 employees as of June 2015, Yamato Scale manufactures products such as weighing machinery, digital platform scales and metal detectors.

The DFA100 Fish Analyzer™ was developed as part of a joint collaboration with five institutions including the Nagasaki Prefectural government and Nagasaki University's Faculty of Fisheries and Aquaculture. The project took four years. Work on the device began in August 2010 following a suggestion by Mr. Masakazu Murata, who was a researcher and developer at the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency, an incorporated administrative agency in Yokohama city, at the time.

Now a Professor at Nagasaki University, he suggested that if the price of fish could be determined in proportion to taste, fishermen's incomes would go up, and it would put a stop to the declining number of fishermen as more people would want to work in the industry.

Professor Murata and his team also expressed hope that the DFA100 would help those in the industry set prices according to the quality of their products, and that their products or brand names would be recognized by consumers. Expectations were also high that lipid levels detected by the device would provide information to help farmers change the format and amount of feed they were using.

The DFA100 allows consumers to receive quality fish, while increasing the product value from fisheries and processing industries. By running a weak electric current within a frequency region of 2kHz - 100 kHz through a fish's body, the device determines the opposition to the flow of an electric current through body tissues, and calculates an estimate of total body water, which can then be used to work out the amount of body fat a fish contains. This method is known as the bioelectrical impedance principle.

The DFA100 offers readings and measurements within three to five seconds without causing any damage to the fish. Fat measurement readings are obtained by placing electrodes on the surface of the fish near the dorsal fin and pressing a button. However, depending on the type of fish, the more fat there is the harder it is for the electric current to pass through, so Professor Murata and his team also spent around three years studying the connection between fat content and how easy or difficult it is for an electric current to pass.

Measuring 18cm long, 8cm wide and 4cm thick, the DFA100 is a portable device that runs through the use of two AA batteries, making it a cheaper alternative to existing devices that run on infra-red rays -- high costs of around one million yen (around GBP 6,500 or USD 9,263) and large size has meant that these devices have hardly been able to penetrate the fisheries sector.

The DFA100 also works in the same way as a body fat metre, which sets the level of lipids from their electrical conductivity. Designed for wholesalers and retailers, it can also determine the level of lipids in a fish. Lipid levels are key to setting the price of fish, because the quantity of fat is usually important in determining a fish's extent of flavour. The device can also determine whether a fish is fresh or frozen (the DFA100 can only be used on fresh fish because freezing breaks down cell membranes, making it difficult to establish an efficient method to measure the amount of fat).

It's often assumed that the more fatty the fish, the tastier it will be. Because the DFA100 can provide measurements on exactly how much fat a fish contains, it will soon be possible to respond to consumer preference more easily and sell fish in line with consumer taste -- some prefer leaner fish because their taste is milder and more delicate than the strong, sometimes "fishy" taste of many fatty fish, while others prefer the opposite.

The DFA100 went on sale in Japan in February 2015 for 14,000yen. Over 300 have been sold so far, and this year Yamato is planning to increase the number of fish species it can measure. "Now we can obtain figures that tell us just how delicious a fish is before we actually eat it," a representative at Yamato said. "We'd like to see the device being used widely by those in the fishing and seafood industries."