National

David Rockefeller Jr., scion of powerful U.S. family, calls for action from Japan to improve health of oceans

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Japan is moving in a positive direction on its fisheries policy and ensuring the marine ecosystem remains sustainable, said David Rockefeller Jr., an environmentalist and a descendant of one of the most influential business families in the United States, but he noted in an interview with The Japan Times on Monday that the country needs to do more to tackle the issue of plastics polluting the world’s oceans.

The management of marine species is becoming more feasible, as scientists now have a better understanding of the globe’s fish populations, Rockefeller, a philanthropist, a sailor and an advocate for healthy oceans said. He noted plans for reform by Japan, therefore, are positive and necessary. “We don’t want our grandchildren criticizing us because today we didn’t act,” he said,

Rockefeller, who is in Japan for business, as well as for other ventures, was speaking on behalf of the nonprofit organization Sailors for the Sea, which he established in 2004.

The organization runs programs and creates educational materials to raise the awareness on ocean sustainability. Its Japan branch was launched in 2011.

“People around the globe are slow to realize there is a problem and I think that’s true in Japan, too,” Rockefeller said in the interview. “But some very good things are happening in Japan,” he added.

In June, the government compiled a plan to reform its fisheries policy, including catch limits for more species from the current eight, based on more scientific evidence and research.

It aims to put a cap on species equivalent to about 80 percent of the country’s total annual catch, compared to about 60 percent now.

The Fisheries Agency also plans to apply individual quotas on more species.

The reform proposal will be discussed at the extraordinary Diet session that kicked off Wednesday.

The catch total in Japan has drastically decreased over the last three-plus decades. In 1984, 12.82 million tons of fish were caught, but that figure plunged to 4.36 million tons in 2016.

Critics have said the country’s fisheries regulations have not worked to properly manage the marine ecosystem.

When it comes to the problem of plastic waste in the oceans, however, Rockefeller said he hopes Japan, along with the U.S., will step up their efforts to deal with the situation.

Tokyo and Washington were the only countries that did not sign the Ocean Plastics Charter proposed at the Group of Seven summit earlier this year. The charter aims to have the world’s major economies solidify a commitment to reduce and recycle plastics for healthy oceans.

Rockefeller said the two countries will have a chance to catch up when Japan hosts the Group of 20 summit next year.

“I think it’s very important for the U.S. and Japan both to sign this charter. I hope that will happen,” he said.

Rockefeller admitted that it is difficult to raise awareness on the plight of the oceans among the general public.

With that struggle in mind his organization has produced the Blue Seafood Guide, which lists species of fish with healthy populations.

Blue Seafood Guide lists 34 sustainably caught and healthy types of fish for Japanese consumers, such as red seabream, Japanese spiny lobster and yellowtail tuna.

“We are distributing this widely in Japan. … The guide gets into restaurants and hotels. Gradually that raises the consumers’ knowledge” on sustainability of the ocean’s ecosystem, Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller is the former chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation and a former adviser to the Japan Art Association. His great-grandfather is John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and the United States’ first billionaire. He is currently a director of Rockefeller Capital Management.