Japan bluefin tuna fishery makes world-first MSC bid

Published on
August 23, 2018

Japan’s Usufuku Honten Co. Ltd. – located in Kesen-numa, Miyagi Prefecture – has entered its bluefin tuna fishery into assessment under the Marine Stewardship Council’s Fisheries Standard. It will be the first bluefin tuna fishery in the world to undergo MSC assessment, according to a press release from the prominent global certification body. 

Independent auditors from Control Union Pesca Ltd. will conduct the assessment of the fishery, according to an MSC press release. The target of the assessment is a single longline vessel, Dai-ichi Shofuku-maru, which hauled in 48 metric tons of bluefin tuna in 2017. The vessel catches bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean all year round on behalf of the family-owned Usufuku Honten.

Established in 1882 as a fish wholesaler, Usufuku Honten started fishing in the Japanese EEZ and on the high seas in the 1930s and, since the 1980s, has been focusing on its pelagic longline tuna fishing operations globally. Lately, the company has been looking ahead to the future, working to rebuild the Kesen-numa and Tohoku fishing industry following damage cause by the 2011 tsunami. 

“While bluefin tuna fishing has a long and chequered history, Usufuku recognises its responsibility to pass ocean resources on to the next generation,” said Soutaro Usui, President of Usufuku Honten, about the MSC venture. “Atlantic Bluefin tuna resources were once drastically depleted; however, due to our active commitment to abide by the strict rules of ICCAT, the latest stock assessment shows a surprising recovery. On the other hand, there is still a lot of untraceable tuna in the Japanese market. We would like to get MSC certified to convey to consumers in Japan what real sustainable fish and sustainable fishing are. In doing so, we believe we can modify Japanese people’s values around seafood.”

Usufuku Honten’s decision to seek MSC certification makes sense to Kozo Ishii, MSC’s program director for Japan, what with demand for MSC-approved seafood increasing in prominence in Japan as of late.

“A full MSC assessment is a transparent and difficult process and I respect any fishery that puts themselves under this level of scrutiny,” Kozo Ishii said. “The demand for MSC certified seafood has dramatically increased in Japan as it has in western countries. Especially for tuna, the demand is growing in Japan’s sashimi market. In its MSC assessment, Usufuku Honten will be examined to see if they work sustainably, including the management system, the fishery’s impact on bluefin tuna stocks and on their marine habitats. If the fishery is MSC certified, they will help fill the gap in demand for sustainable bluefin tuna in our market and encourage the further spread of certified seafood in Japan.”

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