Conservation & Science

Japan sets its sights on sustainable seafood and 2020 Olympics

Japan, one of the world’s largest consumers of seafood, is moving to embrace sustainable practices for fishing and aquaculture in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Monterey Bay Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was invited last month to speak with Japanese business leaders about the growing global movement toward seafood sustainability. Here are her impressions from her trip.

Chief Conservation Officer Margaret Spring was the keynote speaker for the sustainable seafood conference in Tokyo.

I recently returned from the 3rd annual Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium hosted by Nikkei Ecology and co-hosted by Seafood Legacy. I was honored to be asked to keynote the event and eager to learn about progress in this seafood-loving nation as global awareness grows for addressing ocean conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.

In 2016 the United Nations adopted a new sustainable development goal specifically for the ocean, and earlier this year hosted a first-ever global conference dedicated to ocean. At that conference, nations endorsed an ambitious target of ending overfishing and illegal fishing by 2020, the same year that Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics. In August, just after the UN Ocean Conference, the fishing nations of the Pacific, with full support of Japan, agreed to set harvest limits to bring Pacific bluefin tuna back from its currently depleted state. And last year, Japan ratified the global enforcement treaty, the Port State Measures Agreement. I was hopeful.

A vast metropolis

Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Games, and has made a commitment to serve sustainable seafood at Olympic venues.

Riding the Narita Airport express bus to my hotel through the remnants of a fall monsoon, I took in the vastness of Tokyo. A drive that usually took a little over an hour took us two and a half hours in stop-and-go traffic along highways crisscrossing the city and suburbs that spread across all horizons. The slow crawl of rush-hour traffic allowed me to absorb the urban scenery as dusk fell—including the lights of Tokyo Disney, as well as Tokyo Tower, a replica of Paris’ Eiffel Tower that reflects Japan’s affinity with French culture and cuisine, which shows in its exquisite culinary tradition.

Godzilla is a global pop-cultural icon and, as this banner on a Shinjuku district skyscraper attests, still popular in Japan.

I was thrilled to wake the next morning in the Shinjuku district to sunshine and to find that my tiny room overlooked Tokyo’s massive municipal government buildings, draped with banners celebrating the Olympics. The entire scene was overseen by a red and black mural of Godzilla, the movie monster associated with rampaging through the Shinjuku area. (Curiously, no murals of the pink-festooned “Mothra twins”, famous for vanquishing Godzilla!)

Reunion with an old friend

For me, the conference day opened with a reunion. A year ago, Japanese media star and ichthyologist Sakana-kun, known for wearing his trademark pufferfish hat and hand-decorated lab coat, visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium to film a TV special. After meeting in Monterey, we were reunited in Tokyo, greeting each other and exchanging gifts. I was touched by his present: a photo commemorating our day at the Aquarium, which I will proudly frame and display in my office.

Ichthyologist Sakana-kun takes a lighthearted approach, but his advocacy for ocean wildlife reaches wide audience in Japan.

After opening the conference with a welcome for the participants and some high-level remarks about the important role that business leaders in Japan can play in advancing ocean-friendly seafood practices—and after hosting a rather hilarious conversation with Sakana-kun about his favorite fish, his cartoon artwork of marine life, and ocean conservation—I sat down to absorb the conference presentations. What I heard was so encouraging.

Two of Japan’s major grocery chains, AEON (with Japan’s highest retail sales for the past six years) and SEIYU (Walmart’s subsidiary in Japan) talked about their commitments to sourcing sustainable seafood, especially in conjunction with the 2020 Olympics, and their plans to do more.

Japan’s very important Consumers’ Co-operative Union also articulated its members’ interest in promoting local and sustainable fishery products. Finally the nation’s largest industrial fishery companies, Nissui and Maruha Nichiro, participated in a strong presentation by the Stockholm Resilience Center about the “SEABOS” project (“Seafood Businesses for Ocean Stewardship”), a facilitated effort among the world’s largest seafood producers to trigger a global transition to sustainability—from seafood, to plastics to climate.

Chefs play a leading role

Chef Thomas Angerer of the Park Hyatt shared his commitment to sustainable local sourcing for his menus.

In Japan, chefs are becoming more active, as well. Thomas Angerer, Executive Chef of the Park Hyatt (the hotel and bar made famous by the movie Lost in Translation) spoke passionately about his commitment to sourcing both locally and sustainably, including the hotel’s support for improvement projects. I was thrilled to learn he had just been to the Aquarium this summer with his young daughter, who is a big fan of ours. (I vowed that we would return the favor, and pay him a visit at the Park Hyatt!) Other chefs, including Ned Bell of Vancouver’s Ocean Wise, and Daisuke Mitsui of the Tokyo Restaurant “Blue” also participated, signaling a potential pan-Pacific network of sustainable seafood chefs.

National fisheries agency President Masa Miyahara (left) made it clear that Japan is committed to taking action to reverse the global decline of fisheries.

The business commitment was also matched by a strong presentation by Masa Miyahara, the president of Japan’s Fisheries Research and Education Agency, highlighting the government’s recognition of the dire state of fisheries globally—and in Japan—and the need to take action. This includes increasing stock assessments, science-based catch limits, and technology to modernize monitoring and management. He also highlighted the national government’s Cabinet Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform, which is due to make recommendations about comprehensive fishery management reform in Japan next year.

Businesses are stepping up

There were fantastic presentations by so many businesses in Japan that can play a role in the transformation. We heard from IKEA Japan, which has a sustainable seafood commitment and is interested in exploring more opportunities; from All Nippon Airways (ANA), which is using technology to source seafood produced in ways that are free of human rights concerns; and from Hitachi and satellite data providers, who are creating technology that could help with a transition to a traceable and legal seafood.

Japan is moving toward more sustainable practices in its domestic fisheries. Businesses are advancing the cause through their global purchasing practices. Photo courtesy Ocean Outcomes.

In the final panel, it was incredibly moving to hear from Shintaro Ikeda, a young former Olympian who now serves on Japan’s Olympic host committee. He articulated the next generation’s commitment to having the 2020 Olympics signal a leadership change for conservation and the future of our ocean planet.

Setting our common sights on making a global transition toward sustainability by 2020 is an exciting opportunity. We heard in Japan that business and fishery leaders are interested in continuing these conversations—perhaps in Monterey. I look forward to reporting on further progress as we make these ambitious goals a reality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: