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.
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.
From a human perspective, the ocean is mind-bogglingly vast, deep and mysterious. Many of us live along the coast, or visit it on vacation, but few have experienced the high seas. We may not think much about marine life until it’s on our plates.
But this week Ed Kenney, a Hawaii-based celebrity chef and a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, called on people to rethink our appetite for one particular fish: Pacific bluefin tuna. These huge, fast predators, which migrate thousands of miles across the Earth’s largest ocean, are now down to less than 3 percent of their historical abundance due to overfishing.
We’ve learned a lot about the movement of Pacific bluefin by tagging more than 1,400 fish off the coast of California. But, mysteriously, not one of these individuals has made it back across the Pacific to spawn in the Sea of Japan.
The Conservation & Science team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked for more than two decades to understand and recover bluefin tuna – particularly Pacific bluefin, whose population has declined historically due to overfishing. A key piece of our efforts is tagging bluefin in the wild so we can document their migrations across ocean basins. Much of our work takes place in the Eastern Pacific, but this summer we’re partnering with Japanese colleagues to tag bluefin tuna in the Sea of Japan. Tuna Research and Conservation Center Research Technician Ethan Estess, working with Program Manager Chuck Farwell, is chronicling his experience in the field. This the second dispatch in his series; you can read the first here.
Before we go further into our bluefin tagging expedition in Japan, I want to share a bit of background on this fascinating and politically-charged fish we study: Thunnus orientalis, the Pacific bluefin tuna.
You may have read that bluefin are in decline due to overfishing. The challenge is to sort the headlines from the science. Scientists don’t always have perfect answers, but they do use the best data available to make educated guesses.