Sustainable seafood in Japan

Posted by Casson in News and Announcements |

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…?

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Oct 7, 2011 at 3:49 am

Glad to see someone blogging about sustainable sushi. More people need to be made aware that eating sustainable seafood species is a must given the dangerously low levels of many species and the uncertain futures that they face.

I am a big fan of sushi and living in London, there are many sushi restaurants to choose from but I’ve been really impressed with the committment shown by London sushi restaurant chain Feng Sushi’s dedication to ensuring the responisbility and sustainability of their menu and the fact that they don’t serve any at risk fish species such as the blue fin tuna.

Oct 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

@ ljdavie

Thanks for getting in touch and for visiting the website. I also agree with you that it’s great to see Feng Sushi avoiding bluefin in the name of healthier oceans — hopefully more and more restaurants will continue to go this way!

I should mention, though, that I’m not totally convinced about Feng not serving any at-risk species. The menu dwells pretty heavily on yellowtail, which I’m willing to bet is being sourced from the same place that 99% of the world’s sushi restaurants get it — hamachi farms in southern and western Japan. There are quite a few severe environmental concerns associated with these farming operations; most reputable seafood sustainability NGOs consider them an unsustainable enterprise.

That said, please don’t think that I’m criticizing Feng — it’s extremely admirable that they’ve taken such steps towards sustainability. Avoiding bluefin is a big deal in this business; dealing with the hamachi issues would simply be another step down that path. A number of sushi restaurants here in the US have managed to surmount this obstacle (albeit with some difficulty) — do you know anyone at Feng? If you happen to, please pass along that if we at could be of any help with this kind of work, we’d be happy to do what we can.

Thanks again!



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