TSSS 2019 takes deep dive into Japan’s seafood sustainability initiatives

The Tokyo Seafood Sustainability Symposium continues to encourage dialogue around seafood sustainability issues in Japan and beyond.

This year’s symposium, hosted by Seafood Legacy, Co., Ltd. and Nikkei ESG, and co-hosted by The Walton Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, took place 7 and 8 November.

A major topic of conversation at the event was Japan’s new Fisheries Reform Act, which revamped the country’s regulations governing commercial fishing and aquaculture. Masanori Miyahara, the president of Japan’s Fisheries Research and Education Agency, said the law has the potential to act as a catalyst for change in how the country approaches sustainability issues in regard to its fisheries.

Miyahara said the aims of the recent fishery reform were to rebuild resources and expand sustainable aquaculture. He cited the need for closed-cycle breeding of Japanese eel, as 90 percent of eel used are still caught in the wild, due to the high cost of breeding eels. He also lamented the fact that saury catches have declined sharply in recent years, and called for a greater effort in Japan to have conversations around how warming seas as a result of climate change will increasingly affect the health of populations of species especially meaningful to Japanese culinary culture and tradition.

“Pacific saury is a resource that Japanese used to take for granted,” he said. “It is a great mistake to think that we can go on eating seafood as we have in the past.”

Former Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Administrative Vice-Minister Masaaki Okuhara noted that the global fishing yield has doubled while Japan’s has halved since its peak, and Japan has fallen from the world’s top fishing nation to seventh place. He said that in Japan, 20 percent of seafood comes from aquaculture, while the worldwide figure is 50 percent. In order to increase aquaculture in Japan, the use-rights to aquaculture sites, which had been basically reserved to fishery cooperatives, can now be allocated to companies if they are not utilized by the co-ops. Regarding the implementation of total allowable catch (TAC) in place of total allowable effort (TAE)—or as he termed it, “exit control rather than entry control,” he said. He cited the need to increase efficiency and raise incomes of fishermen by increasing the size of vessels.

“People agree to the general concept, but fight on the details,” Okuhara said. “They don’t want to be controlled.”

Ryohei Nomoto, the CEO of Haneda Ichiba Co., Ltd., spoke on the need to move from high yield to higher added-value. The company has a HACCP-approved facility inside the cargo area of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport for quick processing and delivery. He said that the average income derived from fishing of Japan’s 3.5 million fishermen is just JPY 1.9 million (USD 18,000, EUR 16,000). He noted that Norway has been able to preserve its mackerel stocks while Japan’s have declined, due to poor management and failure to apply a strict TAC.

Senior Vice President, Oceans, of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Eric Schwaab related the U.S. experience of converting some fisheries to individual fishing quota (IFQ) systems designed through regional councils. Schwaab previously served as head of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Under Japan’s fishery reform, individual vessel quotas (IVQs) are to be introduced. Japan does not have regional councils, but he said that a similar role might be played by the fishery cooperatives, though the Japanese system differs from the U.S. in that Japan’s use-rights are area-based, being tied to a specific port.

In a panel discussion focused on Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS), participants in the initiative spoke hopefully about the ability of the top fishing, aquaculture, and feed companies – the seafood industry’s so-called “keystone actors” – to have a large influence on sustainable outcomes in the sector. In the past two years, the SeaBOS initiative has brought representatives of large seafood companies and scientists together to address problems affecting fishing and the marine environment.

Speakers included Stockholm Resilience Centre Deputy Science Director Henrik Österblom and SeaBOS Managing Director Martin Exel, who both introduced SeaBOS. Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd. Deputy General Manager Toshiya Yabuki and Maruha Nichiro Corp. Deputy Manager Hiroyuki Sato spoke regarding the experience of working within SeaBOS as members.

Yabuki said Nippon Suisan will use GRI-based reporting and will conduct its second survey on procured seafood – the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Standards are the first and most widely adopted global standards for sustainability reporting. Yabuki said, in addition, the company plans translate its sustainability data into English, so that it can be more open to international review. Sato cited as an accomplishment that subsidiary Austral Fisheries has been certified by the Australian government as carbon neutral.  They plant native trees in Australia to offset their carbon emissions.

Aeon Co., Ltd., Merchandising Strategy Manager Yasuyuki Yamamoto gave a short speech about his company’s promotion of third party sustainability certifications, such as Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), as well as other Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative-benchmarked certifications. Because Aeon has Chain of Custody (CoC) certification from MSC, it can do further processing or repacking of certified MSC products, such as sushi and rice-balls, Yamamoto said.

Satoshi Matsumoto, from the Merchandising/Sustainable Procurement Division of the Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union, said that the JCCU has set a goal of aiming for 20 percent of its seafood department items to be MSC- or ASC-=certified. More than 100 such items are now sold in JCCU stores nationwide, Matsumoto said.

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership CEO Jim Cannon talked about the change of attitude of companies from opposing NGOs to collaborating with them. He said that it is important for NGOs to make a business case for sustainability.

“Some NGOs still attack companies, point out weak points, and accuse companies of greenwashing – and they play an important role,” he said. “But if NGOs provide fair recognition, then they can have a dialogue.”

Photo courtesy of Chris Loew/SeafoodSource


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