Online 2020 Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium reaches biggest-ever audience

The Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium 2020 took place earlier this month in an online format, replacing the in-person event which had drawn an increasing amount of attention and attendance for in the past few years for shining a light on issues of marine sustainability in seafood-loving Japan.

This year’s event schedule was expanded from two to six days, with presentations covering a dozen topics. Last year, 900 people attended the live event, but the online format of this year’s event gave co-organizers Naoki Asami, the managing director of Nikkei BP, and Seafood Legacy Founder and CEO Wakao Hanaoka hope that they would double attendance in 2020. Hanaoka said going virtual had not led conference sponsors to flee; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation provided keystone support and 10 private companies also helped to fund the event.

Individual sessions of TSSS 2020 covered environmental, social, and corporate governance; local production and international certifications; food security; business, human rights and IUU fishing; investing tin the global ocean; corporate procurement; food culture; Japan and EU marine strategies; illegal fisheries in Asia; marine plastics; and technology and digital transformation.

In his opening address, Hanaoka said the biggest barrier to more sustainable fisheries management is complacency.

“Through TSSS 2020, I hope we are able to draw a new roadmap of the sustainable seafood movement – a movement that has been accelerating in Japan,” Hanaoka said. “In Japan, we are blessed with one of the most abundant natural resources in the world. We have put off solving challenges as we were complacent about that abundancy. But we need to enhance fisheries resource management systemically in order to secure a stable future supply of seafood to meet global food demand, which is expanding dramatically. With the right approach, I am confident there will be a time when fishing industry vibrancy will return to Japan.”

Hanaoka said an increasing reliance on aquaculture – and a push to improve its sustainability – will also be necessary to meet the demands of an increasingly hungry global marketplace. Hanaoka noted demand for sustainable seafood is growing rapidly in Japan, but he lamented that most of the certified sustainable products currently available in Japan are imported and urged the more progress in the certification of domestic seafood.

Speaking in the opening “food security” session of TSSS 2020, Manuel Barange, director of the Fisheries Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, made a case for the role of sustainable seafood in ensuring food security, based on two FAO publications: The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture and The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. Barange called for fish products to be identified explicitly in food security and nutrition strategies at the global, regional, and national level; for better integration between food security considerations and biodiversity objections; for reinforcement of international and regional cooperative governance mechanisms;  for blue transformation programs that push for “transformative” fisheries management, sustainable intensification in aquaculture – especially in Africa, where food shortages are projected to be greatest in coming years; and for transformation and value addition to current and emerging supply chains.

U.N. Development Program Administrator Achim Steiner spoke about preventing overfishing. He endorsed marine reserves or marine protected areas and talked about the UNDPs work in supporting their establishment. He mentioned that these efforts were in line with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, established as part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10, or Conference of the Parties 2010).

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard spoke about the Seafood Watch program and how it has stimulated demand for sustainable seafood. Monterey Bay partners Seafood Legacy and the Sailors for the Sea seafood sustainability program in Japan. She praised the Japanese government for the recent reform to its Fisheries Act, which she said had the impact of building scientific capacity for fisheries management and improving traceability.

“I’ve been so encouraged by the way in which the world community has embraced the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the way in which the U.N. has made the ocean a priority,” Packard said.

Mitsuru Izumo, CEO of Tokyo-based Euglena Co., Ltd., which specializes in the research, development, and production of microalgae products, touted the role seaweed and algae can play in combating malnutrition globally. Euglena, a nutrient-rich microalgae, is one of the most efficient uses of land for the growth of protein, more than 40 times as efficient as soybeans, which are themselves far more efficient than beef, milk, pork, chicken, and even insects. And euglena produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other protein sources as well.

Izumo endorsed eco-labels as an effective method for encouraging adoption of more sustainable eating practices in Japan and globally. Seeking to get his company involved, a few years ago, Izumo sought have his products certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), but he found that seaweed and algae were not covered despite being high volume marine products in Asia. Undaunted, the company assisted in the creation of a new ASC-Marine Stewardship Council joint standard for seaweed certification and his company became the first to be certified to the new standard in 2019.

Izumo called for a greater voice for the younger generation in governance at all levels, and said his own company recently took the step of hiring a chief future officer, who must be under the age of 18, and who is personally involved in Euglena’s sustainability efforts. She chose to abolish use of PET bottles and to make straws optional, Izumo said.

Culminating the opening session of TSSS 2020 was a panel discussion on biodiversity focusing on the targets from COP10 and featuring Nikkei ESG Senior Editor Kaori Fujita, Japan Vice Minister of the Environment Tokutaro Nakai, and Nippon Suisan Kaisha (Nissui Group) Executive Officer for Quality Assurance Munehiro Ise.

Nakai said Japan has addressed the goal of reserving 10 percent of its exclusive economic zone for marine conservation, but has not been successful in protecting coral reefs. He said 2021 will be an important year in catching up to the SDG targets, as global progress on the goals was set back by the coronavirus.

Ise said Nissui had pushed hard to reduce its contribution to global plastics pollution and said the company had upped its participation in business sustainability initiatives including the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability and the SeaBOS initiative. He said Nissui is in the midst of conducting an extensive company-wide survey to determine its environmental impact both overall, with data drilling down to the individual product level. Nakai praised Nissui’s efforts and encouraged other large companies in Japan to take the issue of sustainability just as seriously.

“It’s important to educate consumers about the sea,” Nakai said. “Leading companies like Nissui can have a great impact with initiatives like this.”

Photo courtesy of Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium


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