Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Is the 2020 Olympics an Opportunity for Japan to Tackle Seafood Sustainability?

Food

Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.



Spectators can now watch the auction of fresh and frozen tuna from a specially designed Tuna Auction Observation Deck. Because tuna, which can weigh up to 650 kilos (1,433 pounds), is definitely the star of the show. This year a giant bluefin sold for $3.1 million (€2.77 million) at Toyosu, smashing previous records.

Yet as seafood tourism in Japan booms, global fish stocks are plummeting. Bluefin tuna is among the worst affected — it's now one of the most over-exploited fish in the ocean, with all three bluefin species endangered.

Tuna is the star of the show: The meaty fish is in such high demand that stocks have come under severe pressure.

Following the Olympics' focus on sustainable food in Rio and London, Japan is under pressure to provide eco-friendly seafood to the huge numbers of visitors expected in Tokyo for the 2020 games.

"We want to establish sustainable seafood elements," said Wakao Hanaoka, founder of Tokyo-based sustainable seafood consultancy, Seafood Legacy. "We want to use this 2020 Olympics as a chance to boost acceleration of the movement in Japan."

Right now, that's no easy task.

Tuna off the Menu

Japan is one of the world's biggest consumers of seafood, at around 33 kilos (approximately 73 pounds) per capita in 2016, Euromonitor. By comparison, Italians consumed 16 kilos per capita in the same year.

To serve seafood certified as sustainable by the internationally recognized Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) to visitors during the games, Japan would have to rely mainly on imports. The country has just one MSC-certified sustainable seafood restaurant.

Lively trade: In Tokyo, the fish market isn't just big business, it's become a tourist attraction.

Restaurant Blue opened its doors in 2017. The chefs use just two local MSC/ASC-certified products, and get the rest from overseas. One thing you definitely won't find at the restaurant is tuna, said Kota Shibai, who works at both the Tokyo eatery and Seafood Legacy.

"Many customers ask me why there is no tuna at Restaurant Blue … I think it's a great opportunity to explain about the situation of the Japanese fisheries industry," Shibai said. "At the moment, the situation of Japanese tuna is a bit far from sustainability."

Bluewashing Japanese Fisheries

This is news to many consumers. Hanaoka from Seafood Legacy says raising awareness is key to protecting fish stocks. "Many Japanese don't want to eat up all the fish from the ocean, they just don't realize yet [that stocks are so low], " he said.

Yet even for those in the know who want to protect the future of their country's favorite cuisine, critics say labeling can be confusing.

Japan has its own sustainable certification standards: industry groups introduced MEL in 2007 and AEL in 2014, which fisheries have taken up far more enthusiastically than the international certifications.

That's because they are far easier to achieve. Isao Sakaguchi, a law professor specializing in fisheries at Tokyo's Gakushuin University says the bar is so low that, "theoretically any wild-capture fisheries and aquaculture farmers can be certified as 'blue' by the local schemes" — blue denoting marine sustainability.

A Pacific bluefin tuna fishery was certified by MEL in 2015, even as bluefin tuna numbers were at historic lows. The fishery would never have passed the tests to be certified by MSC, Sakaguchi said, calling this "bluewashing."

Mixed Signals From Government

The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee's guidelines for serving "sustainable fishery products" in the Olympic and Paralympic villages and other Tokyo Game's venues says MEL and AEL fishery products satisfy sustainable criteria.

Hanaoka and Seafood Legacy, meanwhile, have been looking into how organizers might provide seafood that meets higher standards of sustainability. Last year, Hanaoka visited London to find out how the 2012 Olympics ensured its fish and chips could be enjoyed guilt-free.

Turns out, they only offered two types of fish, which is fine for Britain's favorite takeout, but difficult to apply in Japan, where visitors will be eager to try sushi that includes as many as 10 to 20 species in a single dish.

"Mostly we are importing, so when we welcome guests from foreign countries to Japan, we serve sushi and it's a set of imported products and endangered species – that's not something to be proud of as Japanese people," said Hanaoka

The Japanese government has signaled that it's beginning to take this situation seriously. In December last year the biggest of its fishing laws for 70 years was enacted, which includes more limits on what can be caught, as well as recovery plans for overfished species.

"The government is slow but it's starting to tighten up its legislation," said Hanaoka. "Bit by bit, it's getting better."

Yet Japan's commitment to marine conservation looks a lot less convincing since the country resumed commercial whaling in July, after a 33-year moratorium.

For now, Tokyo's tourists and sports fans will have to choose carefully if they want to be sure they aren't eating threatened species. Most local catches might be off the menu, but among the glittering array of produce at the Toyosu fish market, sea urchin and flying squid are tipped as good bets for flavor and sustainability.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Plant pathologist Carolee Bull works in her home garden in State College, Pennsylvania. Carolee Bull, CC BY-ND

By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull

Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.

Read More Show Less
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Emma Charlton

The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.

Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.

Read More Show Less
Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba") is a free-living microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism). Centers for Disease Control

As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.

Read More Show Less

Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix. Flickr / CC by 2.0

Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Japan Self-Defense Forces and police officers join rescue operations at a nursing home following heavy rain in Kuma village, Kumamoto prefecture on July 5, 2020. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.

Read More Show Less