Turning Japanese retailers onto sustainable seafood

Posted by Willie — 3 September 2010 at 3:41pm - Comments

Handing out sustainable seafood guides on the streets of Tokyo (c) Sutton-Hibbert/Greenpeace

There's a common comment in this part of the world, often repeated on the internet especially, about sorting out the seafood problem: namely, we have to change minds in Japan.

Whilst it's a simplistic generalisation, there is a lot of truth in that. Seafood is a global commodity and a global problem. The big markets for seafood are (perhaps unsurprisingly) North America, Europe, and Asia.

As an island nation, Japan is undoubtedly a place with a strong tradition of eating a vast array of seafood. We know too that Japan's demand for fish reaches around the world (of course, they are not alone in this). Most notably Japan is the key importer of the large tuna species (bluefin, bigeye and yellowfin), but the demand for sushi specifically, and seafood generally, also covers many other species from Patagonian toothfish to eels.

Greenpeace has had an office in Japan for over two decades. But it has taken until this year for Greenpeace Japan to be able to launch its very own sustainable seafood campaign. Building on the work we have done in other countries, our colleagues have unleashed their Susea (Sustainable Seafood) campaign onto the Japanese high streets.

The reception they've had has shown quite clearly how things have started to move on around the world. In the space of a few years, the world has started to wake up to the problems of overfishing and destructive fishing. Whilst, from a distance, we might like to assume Japan is just a part of the problem, as keen seafood eaters they are starting to realise too that they need to be part of the solution.

My Japanese colleague Wakao tells us that they have had a great reception both from customers, retailers and the media. In handing out seafood guides, some shaped like traditional Japanese fans, they gave the public graphic information of the problem species on the menu. And accompanied by a colleague in a sad-looking fish costume (called Fini), they took the message to the streets of Japan.

Japanese sustainable seafood guide

Sustainable seafood guide, Japanese style

Just as we have done in the UK, US and elsewhere, Greenpeace Japan is following this up with discussions with key retailers, especially the big supermarket chains like Aeon and Seiyu. At the same time, media reporting of the campaign has not, as might be expected, been dismissive and negative, but rather supportive and explaining the key issues Greenpeace Japan is concerned about.

Of course, much of the focus is on bluefin, the current poster-fish of unsustainability. The Japanese Government has set itself up as the would-be saviour of Atlantic bluefin - something we're keen to see come true at this year's ICCAT meeting in Paris.

But Wakao and his colleagues are also drawing attention to the plight of the more local bluefin species - Pacific bluefin. In that, they have an unusual ally in the artisanal, traditional fishing fleet. They have been fishing Pacific bluefin for years and know all-too-well that the massive purse-seining nets are a sure fire way to drive the species to the brink of extinction. After all, that has already happened to the bluefin's Atlantic cousin. They know too that creating protected areas for commercially-important species, especially in breeding grounds, is just plain common sense.

This is just the start for Susea and I'm excited to hear what happens in the weeks and months to come. But one thing is clear: the mood in Japan is changing. Let's hope that Susea can help push Japanese retailers and consumers the way seafood campaigns have in other countries.

After all, a global problem needs global solutions.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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