Japanese Soul Food: Japan Progresses Towards More Sustainable Seafood

Created on Thursday, 27 December 2018

By Traci Linder, Senior Project Manager

photo credit: Andrew Simoni

The year 2020 represents something different to each of us, and for many it may have no significance at all. But in Tokyo, 2020 is the year that city and its citizens will be hosting the next Summer Olympic Games. With less than two years to go, the city and Olympic Game organizers are pushing for sustainability to be top of mind at this Olympic Games, and seafood will be no exception.

To help support this goal, Seafood Legacy and its co-organizers, the Walton Family Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, hosted the fourth annual Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium this past November. This impressive event brought together Japanese and global business leaders, academics, NGOs, and government officials to discuss sustainable seafood and responsible fisheries management in Japan. As the third largest seafood importing country in the world, Japan is home to a culture with significant ties to seafood and a place where fish is considered soul food. Given the cultural and dietary importance of seafood in Japan, the symposium organizers are committed to making it available and sustainable for the 2020 Olympic Games and beyond.

FishWise had the honor of being invited to the November symposium to speak to our experiences working with major North American businesses on improving the sustainability of the seafood they purchase and sell. The sustainable seafood movement has been making progress for over 20 years in North America, but historically sustainability has not been prominently discussed in Japan. This is starting to change and important steps are being taken by the Japanese government and businesses to bring sustainability into the national conversation around seafood. I attended the symposium alongside our CEO, Tobias Aguirre, to provide our insights and support Japan in this journey.

FishWise CEO Tobias Aguirre speaks to social responsibility in seafood

Since its inception in 2015, the symposium has seen increased growth of industry participation and commitment for responsible procurement. This was the first year that social responsibility was highlighted as a topic, which is an area where FishWise and its business partners have been leading the movement. In a panel titled ‘Social Responsibility in Seafood Supply Chains’, Tobias spoke to FishWise’s historical work providing our business partners with the tools and guidance to be proactive and progressive in their efforts to ensure fair and legal practices are used to bring seafood to their shelves. This work entails businesses making public commitments to prevent human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains, taking time-bound steps that are best practice for preventing these abuses, and collaborating with other businesses and experts to learn from one another. For an example of real world improvements our partners are making, check out this road map we created for Hy-Vee to help ensure its seafood is legally and responsibly sourced.

I speak to using traceability to support legal and sustainable seafood

Large volumes of high value imported seafood coupled with limited traceability regulations makes the Japanese market susceptible to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) product entering its supply chains. IUU fishing hinders seafood sustainability because it undermines fisheries management measures and the efforts of responsible fishers. The panel I spoke on, ‘Combatting IUU Fishing on National and Industry Level – Challenges of Importing Countries’, was one of the most highly attended sessions that afternoon. Alongside panelists from Japan and the European Union, each of us spoke to the importance of seafood traceability and using traceability as a tool to help deter IUU product from entering legal markets and to support sustainability efforts. I explained how FishWise works with North American businesses to improve their seafood traceability practices and help combat IUU fishing, which includes collaborative efforts such as this counter-IUU fishing work that FishWise led with Albertsons Companies and a few of its seafood suppliers.

photo credit: Andrew Simoni

The symposium ended on a high note with the announcement that the Japanese government is reforming its domestic fisheries laws for the first time in over 70 years. This welcomed reform will include stock recovery plans, fishing vessel quotas, and the expansion of stock assessments, a strong indication of how Japan plans to manage its fisheries now and into the future.

FishWise’s attendance at the 2018 Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Symposium not only allowed us to share our expertise and help support the Japanese market in its journey towards more sustainable seafood, it also connected us to a variety of stakeholders that are working on improving sustainable seafood in that region. Recognizing the number of organizations working on seafood sustainability and traceability, as well as the power of collaboration to help spur improvements, FishWise is leading a global initiative called the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT). This alliance aims to bring together all seafood stakeholders to accelerate learning and innovative solutions for legal, traceable, and sustainable seafood. Many symposium attendees saw the value of SALT and have already joined our growing network. We look forward to collaborating with our Japanese colleagues as they create the pathway forward for sustainable seafood in Japan and across the globe.

To learn more about how FishWise supports businesses please see our services, and to learn about SALT’s current work and how to get involved please visit our SALT webpage.