I apologize for not being more on the ball with this update; this conference has been a bit overwhelming.
Anyhow, there’s been a lot of talk here about the growing (?) sustainable seafood movement in Japan, the world’s #1 seafood consumer per capita. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is claiming that there’s a burgeoning awareness within the Japanese consumer public: In 2004, there were no MSC-certified products available in Japan. Today, there are 150.
While I’m certainly glad to see that more and more fisheries are being certified by the MSC, I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusion. The MSC-certified products available in Japan are largely imports from fisheries that also sell their product to other countries, especially in Europe and North America, where the public is much more aware of the MSC. Commitments like those made by WalMart (all wild seafood to be MSC-certified by 2014), or the entire country of Holland (only MSC-certified wild fish to be sold) help to drive demand in these areas.
One could argue that Japan is importing the same products they had been five years ago, but the products simply happen to be MSC-certified now and weren’t previously. So is this really indicative of a growing awareness in Japan?
As of March 2008, a study undertaken by the Japan office of the MSC indicated that only 8% of the surveyed public were aware of the MSC label. That number decreases to 5% when the survey is narrowed to pregnant women and mothers (a demographic which is often responsible for shopping for food and domestic goods, including fish).
The story becomes even more telling when you start to look at the actual products coming from Japan that are being certified by the MSC: Products like snow crab and skipjack tuna. These are items that have garnered popularity beyond Japan with the expansion of the sushi industry into a global phenomenon. Compare this to those fish that were “left behind,” as it were — fish like sayori and kohada that are only rarely encountered in other countries but have immense popularity and cultural value in Japan.
One could imagine that if awareness of and value for MSC certification was growing among the Japanese public to a level where it was driving demand, we would be seeing certification efforts on these domestically-driven fisheries as well. And yet…?