2013 highlighted the decline in Japan’s fishery resources, with baby eel trading at ¥3 million per kilogram — more expensive than silver — and the catch quota of bluefin tuna being slashed at the December meeting of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
Quite a lot of species are at risk of extinction.
“Japan has left overfishing unchecked, which led to a population decline in fish. Although we were aware of the severity of the situation, we didn’t really get the message out to the public,” a former official of the Fisheries Agency said with a sense of guilt.
“While there are many who worry about the current situation at the agency, it is not easy to change things under the pressure from fishery organizations and lawmakers close to them. They need outside pressure to change, and the most effective outside pressure is the voice of consumers, namely public opinion,” the former official said.
If consumers do not purchase overexploited fish, overfishing would naturally decline. If the issue attracts high interest from voters, politicians may take initiatives toward reform. Thus the change in consumer attitudes is the key to protecting fishery resources, observers say.
Yoshikatsu Ikuta, a tuna trader at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, is one activist who promotes sustainable fisheries. Having felt the decline in resources firsthand, Ikuta began a new movement in November to apply labels that say “Seafood Smart” on products from sustainable fisheries and selling them at supermarkets.
Ikuta is also promoting the Fish and Seafood Specialist test, which covers various fish-related topics, including marine resources, cooking, fishing, culture and marketing. “I would like as many people as possible to know about the current situation,” he said.
The effectiveness of such activities may be understood by looking abroad.
Founded in 1997 by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Anglo-Dutch multinational consumer goods company Unilever, the Marine Stewardship Council set standards on sustainable fishing, its effects on ecosystems and the fishing management system.
Fisheries that meet the standards are given “MSC certification” and they get a license to display an MSC eco-label on their seafood products.
Kotaro Wakiguchi, president of Yamasa Wakiguchi Fishery Group, is aiming to get MSC certification in albacore tuna fisheries. “MSC certification is highly recognized in Western countries. It should become our advantage for expanding business globally to get the MSC certification, as well as halal certification (under Islamic laws), which we have already obtained,” he said.
As of the end of October, more than 200 fishery businesses worldwide had MSC certification and 21,798 seafood products were given MSC eco-labels.
At McDonald’s, all the Filet-O-Fish sandwiches sold at the more than 21,000 shops in 41 Western countries have MSC certification. Also, 69 percent of the natural seafood products sold at Wal-Mart in the United States are MSC-certified or in the process of certification.
These have led to consumer action in the United States. One resident says: “I will only buy the products with MSC eco-labels.”
By contrast, there are only three fisheries with MSC certification in Japan.
The MSC runs on donations and licensing fees for logo usage. Its major sponsor, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (a private foundation of the co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Co.), which has been active in Western countries in protecting fisheries resources, will begin full-scale activities in Japan this year.
“A bottom-up approach is important to protect resources. The voices from the bottom will change the actions (of industry and government). We are going to invest in campaigns to change consumers’ attitudes,” said Lisa Monzon, who is in charge of the foundation’s activities in Japan.
Last October, fishermen on Iki Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, founded Iki Shi Maguro Shigen wo Kangaeru Kai (Iki City Society for Protection of Tuna Resources).
In November, activists, including Taichi Takeuchi, head of the Tosa food restaurant Neboke, and Toshio Katsukawa, associate professor at Mie University, established Umi no Sachi wo Mirai ni Nokosu Kai (Society for the Future of Fisheries Resources). Both societies are engaged in activities to raise consumer awareness about overfishing and promote resource protection.
In December, the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games announced that all of the seafood served to the athletes and officials would be certified as “sustainably wild caught” (MSC) and “responsibly farmed” (ASC, or Aquaculture Steward Council).
Six years later, when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics, what will be the situation in Japan?
This section, which will appear every second and fourth Monday, features translated stories on hot national topics from the monthly magazine Wedge. The original article was published in the February issue. To see Wedge’s website, go to wedge.ismedia.jp