Fish Consumption in Japan

A discussion on the fish consumption rates in Japan. How much is too much & can our oceans recover?

        “I wonder how much seafood Japan consumes?” A question I continually asked myself while visiting Tokyo, Japan in November 2018 (this was also my first visit to Asia).

        Can the blame of certain fish species population depletions be placed solely on Japan?  Do the Japanese over consume seafood? It’s said that one out of every ten fish is consumed in Japan, which rings true as the worldwide view of the Japanese diet is based around its affinity to create incredibly delicious sushi.  So with an amazingly popular dish and a unique culture that millions of visitors want to experience each year, why should we care if there may be an overconsumption of seafood in Japan?

        Seafood is a top provider of protein for diets around the globe.  As more and more people turn away from red meats heart health problems, seafood is seen as a healthy conscious choice.  The fishing industry provides jobs for millions of people around the world, as in over 200 million jobs. This means that almost 3% of the entire world’s population is affected by the fishing industry.

        For decades fishing seemed like an endless opportunity in our oceans, yet overconsumption and unregulated fishing practices have pushed many species to the brink of extinction.  Most notably, the torpedo shaped bluefin tuna, which Japan is the largest consumer of, is a highly sought after endangered species. Oddly enough, we shake our fingers at poachers of endangered rhino species and sign petitions to end dog meat trades, yet are comfortable ordering a plate of sushi that offers an endangered fish.  Please keep in mind, the first two are terrible, this statement is merely aiming at opening your perspective in a new way and in no way trying to place negative opinions on those who consumer fish or undervalue the atrocity of other species killings and abuse.

So, how much is too much fish consumption for Japan?

        Japan is one of the dominant importers of seafood.  Japan’s fishing industry is focused on feeding Japan, with 90% of its caught seafood consumed domestically, and importing the remainder from the United States and South America.  Due to their high consumption of seafood, they are one of a few countries who look to sustainably source their fish, however it’s an uphill battle. It was only in 2017 that agreements were haphazardly agreed upon to structure the fishing of the most popular fish sold worldwide, the bluefin tuna.  

[The population of tuna has been depleted by about 97% due to overfishing and has become a billion dollar industry.  In fact, each year there is a New Years tuna auction in Tokyo. This year, 2019, the winning bidder won with a record high $3.1 million!  Talk about a supply and demand market that is a perfect example for economics professors to use in their lecture halls.]

            Japan is now highly engaged in improvements with plans to rebuild the Pacific bluefin stocks, with a target to regain up to 20% of historic levels by 2034.  Their Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries has said that fish consumption is down from 2001’s high of 40.7kg to 24.6kg consumed per person each year.  (Considering part of this could be due to Japan’s younger generation now having access to other options such as beef and poultry.)

            With the help of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), fisheries now have access to evaluations and strategies to implement more sustainable tactics.  It is clear there is a need to conserve the ocean’s ecosystem and maintain a healthy balance from low lying plankton to large predators, and also preserve the jobs of millions.  Greenpeace compares this all to ‘simple housekeeping’ that I feel needs quite a bit of regulation and accountability. Luckily there is the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership who has the T75 goal, where 75 % of all fishing will be done sustainably by the end of 2020 (fisheries must be certified by the MSC).

              For a typical consumer it feels overwhelming to consider the ramifications of the interests of business owners overpowering the needs of our environment.  You can help make a difference by using your money as your ‘vote’.

      • Only purchase sustainable seafood from brands who only sell seafood with a certified MSC blue label.  This is currently the most trustworthy and widely known label for sustainable seafood
      • Support restaurants that are MSC certified; even asking if they provide MSC certified sustainable seafood will help.  Think about it this way- if enough people ask a restaurant if they sell sustainably certified seafood then they will look into, and hopefully, transition to it.

                The question of whether Japan consumers too much fish is a difficult one to properly answer, especially because I don’t believe we fully understand the impacts of the oceans shifting biodiversity.  The actions needed to be taken should be based around how we fish around the world, the retail and food services industries seafood choices and higher consumer standards.

          [If you’re planning a trip to Japan, then be sure to check these posts about Japanese culture & my First Timers Guide to Tokyo]

            Citations:

            IWC “The IWC is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.  The IWC currently has 89 member governments from countries all over the world.

            The Commission’s role has expanded since its establishment in 1946.  In addition to regulation of whaling, today’s IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching.”

             

            Organizations you can support to help with ocean conservation:

            -WWF

            -Greenpeace

            -Marine Stewardship Council

            -Sustainable Fishering Partnership

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