In Japan, surrounded by beautiful and rich seas, “fish” is deeply rooted in the food culture. On the other hand, did you know that the depletion of marine resources has become increasingly serious in recent years due to various social and environmental issues?

In order to preserve our food culture and protect the future of abundant food, it is necessary to understand the current situation surrounding fishery resources and promote sustainable utilization. In this column, we will discuss in detail the problems faced by the supply chain related to fishery resources, along with case studies.

Table of Contents

1. Rapidly increasing worldwide, consumption

According to the Fisheries Agency, worldwide consumption of fish and shellfish per person per year has doubled over the past 50 years. Consumption has especially skyrocketed in emerging economies, with a nine-fold increase in China and a four-fold increase in Indonesia over the past 50 years.

Furthermore, the total world population, which was 3.782 billion in 1972, will reach 8 billion by November 15, 2022, more than doubling in the past 50 years. Because of the increased use of fish and shellfish as raw materials for livestock feed, global consumption of fish and shellfish has increased approximately five-fold over the past 50 years.

In addition, according to world population estimates by the United Nations, the world population is expected to increase from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 8.5 billion in 2030, and further to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100, which means that consumption is expected to increase further in the future.

2. Ecosystem collapse due to global warming

Rising sea water temperatures due to global warming are leading to the collapse of marine ecosystems. According to an article published in Nature, a comprehensive international scientific journal, phytoplankton, which is essential for the growth of fish, is decreasing at a rate of 1% per year, and as of 2010 it was 40% lower than in 1950. The rate of decrease in phytoplankton is consistent with the rate of increase in sea water temperature, and further global warming in the future could disrupt the marine food chain.

When sea water temperatures rise, organisms such as sea urchins and algae-eating fish that feed on seaweed become active even in winter, causing “isoyaki,” a phenomenon in which seaweed beds are severely degraded by feeding damage, exposing reefs on the sea floor.

Sea urchins have the habit of “never resting,” and even after they have eaten all the kelp in the seaweed beds, they continue to live on other seaweeds, becoming “false sea urchins” with poor filling and no commercial value. If the problem of rocky shore scorching is aggravated by a large number of these “false sea urchins,” abalone, turban shells, and other algae-eating fish that feed on kelp as well as sea urchins will become unable to live.

[Related article] Protecting the Ocean from the Isobarbation Problem. World’s First Shipment of Sea Urchin Raised in Land-Based Facilities Begins

3. Fishing Industry Issues

Bycatch and overfishing” to increase catch

As the consumption of fish and shellfish is increasing around the world, catches have skyrocketed. According to data released by the Fisheries Agency, the global catch has increased from 36.87 million tons in 1960 to 97.58 million tons as of 2018, a 2.5-fold increase.

On the other hand, the spread of fishing methods that emphasize efficiency has led to problems such as “bycatch,” in which fish not targeted for fishing and sea turtles are also caught, “overfishing,” in which even young fish and pre-spawning fish are overfished, and “unused fish,” in which fish with low commercial value that are caught together are discarded. In addition, “bottom trawling,” in which a bag-shaped net is thrown onto the seafloor and pulled around by a fishing boat to catch fish near the seafloor, is considered problematic because it damages the seafloor environment and destroys the ecosystem.

Aiming to improve this situation, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a non-profit organization that works to promote sustainable fishing, has issued the MSC certification, a global standard for certification. For example, the “purse seine fishing” method used for tuna fishing, in which an entire school of fish is encircled by a net spread out in a circular pattern, can maintain its catch even if the number of fish decreases, but overfishing has become a problem. The MSC certifies fishermen who fish while ensuring that sufficient numbers of young fish are left in the sea, and labels their products with the MSC label, known as the “ecolabel of the sea,” in an effort to conserve fishery resources.

In addition, various developments are underway to make effective use of underutilized fish, which have been underutilized even though they are fully available as foodstuffs, and commercialization of such products has begun.

[Related Article] Fishermen in Minami-Izu Launch Product Project to Make Delicious Use of “Unutilized Fish” Not Available in the Market

Shark fin fishing and other unethical fishing practices

Shark fin fishing is done by a method called “shark finning,” in which the shark’s fins are cut from the shark while it is still alive and then returned to the sea. Sharks that have lost their fins are naturally unable to swim, sink to the bottom of the ocean, and die, which has long been viewed as a problem from the perspective of animal welfare.

There have already been moves against shark fin fishing around the world, with the possession, sale, and consumption of shark fins banned in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California in the United States. Consumption of shark fins is also banned in Toronto, Canada, and the United Kingdom was the first country in the world to enact a law banning the import and export of all products containing shark fins, including canned shark fin soup.

This trend is spreading to Greater China, the birthplace of shark fin, where the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel groups Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts and The Peninsula Hotels have stopped serving shark fin dishes at all of their hotels worldwide since 2012.

[Related Article] Foie gras, caviar, and 18 other ingredients that restaurants may no longer be able to serve in the future

“Ghost Fishing” caused by fishing gear runoff

In addition, the problem of fishing gear washed out to sea is also a serious one. In the “Pacific Garbage Belt,” one of the world’s largest accumulations of drifting debris, which has formed in the subtropical waters between California and Hawaii, nearly half of the debris that arrives at the site is fishing gear.

Fishing gear is mainly made of plastic, and once it spills, it floats around in the ocean, remaining in its original form for many years. Because of the severe negative impact of fishing gear on marine life, it has been dubbed “ghost gear” and has caused the problem of “ghost fishing,” the unintentional capture and killing of marine life.

The Japanese government’s “Plastic Resource Recycling Strategy” includes “thorough land-based recovery of fishing gear” as one of its priority strategies, and calls for proper management of fishing gear and recycling technology.

4. Illegal fishing (IUU fishing)

Damage caused by illegal fishermen

“IUU fishing” refers to illegal fishing, including poaching, under-reporting of catches, fishing by unauthorized vessels in areas subject to regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), and fishing by vessels without flag states. It is said that up to 30% of Japan’s imported natural marine products may originate from IUU fishing.

The low price at which seafood caught in IUU fisheries is traded also hurts licensed fishermen who fish the right way. According to WWF Japan, it is estimated that 180-270 billion yen of Japan’s natural marine products imported in 2015 came from IUU fishing. The estimated amount of damage caused by IUU fishing worldwide is 1.1 trillion yen to 2.58 trillion yen.

Depletion of fishery resources

The damage caused by illegal “IUU fishing” is not only financial, but there are also concerns about the depletion of marine resources due to overfishing and the possibility of ghost fishing caused by dumping fishing gear into the sea to conceal the actual situation.

As the world moves toward stricter regulations on IUU fishing, the Fishery Distribution Optimization Act (official name: Act on the Appropriate Domestic Distribution of Specified Aquatic Animals and Plants), which aims to prevent the distribution of illegal fishing, came into effect in Japan on December 1, 2022. On the other hand, this law only covers three domestic marine products and four species subject to import restrictions, and given that the EU already covers all fish species and the U.S. is moving toward all fish species, some have pointed out the possibility of Japan becoming a loophole for IUU marine products.

[Related Article] Preventing Overfishing of Marine Life. Plant-Based Smoked Salmon from Australia Expands to 14 Countries

Human rights violations due to child labor and forced labor

The IUU fishing industry also causes serious labor and human rights violations due to human trafficking, child labor, and forced labor. The bodies of three of them were found in the sea. Three of the bodies were dumped at sea, and most of the crew suffered from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.

The Indonesian crew members were not paid their fair share of remuneration, and before they began working, they were forced to take on a hefty debt in the form of commissions, most of which were used to repay the debt. The Indonesian crew members, who were deprived of their passports and unable to resist, were forced to work more than 18 hours a day while enduring assault and being denied satisfactory food and water. In addition, the Long Xing 629 was licensed to fish for tuna, but in reality it was engaged not only in tuna fishing but also in illegal shark fin fishing.

Fishing vessels engaged in IUU fishing stay at sea for long periods of time, making it difficult to ascertain the actual situation. To prevent such tragic incidents, it is desirable to procure marine products with clear “traceability” that allows information about production and routes to be ascertained.

5. Aquaculture Industry Issues

Destruction of coastal environment and overfishing of bait fish

As the depletion of natural marine resources becomes more serious, aquaculture fisheries are being emphasized as a way to meet the rapidly growing demand. According to the Fisheries Agency, global aquaculture production increased from 2.11 million tons in 1960 to 11.451 million tons in 2018, an increase of more than 54 times in about 30 years. Compared to conventional fisheries, aquaculture fisheries have a more constant supply, which is a great advantage in terms of stable food supply, and the market is expected to expand further in the future as the world population grows.

On the other hand, the negative effects of the expansion of the aquaculture industry are also problematic, such as the destruction of the coastal natural environment to build aquaculture farms, and the toxic substances contained in the wastewater and waste discharged by the farms that alter the quality of the ocean water. In addition, the feed for farmed fish is often natural fish; for example, yellowtail requires 6~9 kg of feed fish per 1 kg, and tuna requires 15 kg of feed fish per 1 kg, so the more the market for farmed fish expands, the more natural fish such as sardines will be needed, which may lead to overfishing.

To improve this situation, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), a non-profit organization that aims to promote “responsible aquaculture,” has issued the ASC certification, a global certification standard. To obtain ASC certification, producers are required not only to maintain a good fishing environment, but also to meet requirements related to the state of the fish stocks to prevent overfishing of sardines and other fish used as bait, to properly manage fish diseases, to protect workers’ rights, and to care for the local community, among other things.

[Related Article] Japan’s First Hamachi Cultured by AI Smart Feeder. Sold at “Kura Sushi” restaurants nationwide.

Editor’s Note

How was it? In this column, I introduced various problems related to fishery resources in detail, along with examples. The current situation of being able to procure necessary marine products whenever we want is not something to be taken for granted.

Appropriate resource management is essential in both fisheries and aquaculture in order to maintain sustainable resources, and it is important for restaurants to be properly informed of this situation as fish providers. In order to continue to provide a stable supply of fish in the future, it is important to contribute to the conservation of marine resources by actively using certified marine products with clear traceability and utilizing unused fish.

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サステナブルな水産業を料理人が牽引。Chefs for the Blue京都が始動

[Reference Site] Ministry of Fisheries: (2) Global consumption of marine products
[Reference Site] National Institute of Population and Social Security Research: World (Major Regions) Population in 1972
[Reference Site] United Nations: World Population Prospects 2022
[Reference Site] United Nations Information Center: World Population Estimates 2019 Executive Summary
[Reference Site] WWF:Possible ocean-to-table problems
[Reference Site] AFP: Declining phytoplankton could disrupt the marine food chain, study finds
[Reference Site] Fisheries Agency: 3-1 Trends in World Fishery and Aquaculture Production
[Reference Site] Fisheries Agency: Guidelines for rock scorch prevention (Version 3 )
[Reference Site] Cold Land Civil Engineering Research Institute: Relationship between sea urchins and kelp from the viewpoint of isobarbation.
[Reference Site] MSC recognized by the United Nations as an international benchmark for tackling biodiversity loss.
[Reference Site] Marine Stewardship Council, “Sowing Nets.
[Reference site] WWF Japan: [Related information on the Fish Guide] Fishing methods such as purse seine and gill net fishing… Explanation of various fishing methods
[Reference Site] Shark’s fin dishes are no longer served at Shangri-La Hotel, Hong Kong.
[Reference Site] The Peninsula” hotel will stop offering shark fins from next year.
[Reference Site] Culinary Controversies: Shark Fin Soup and Sea Creatures in the Asian Studies Curriculum
Reference site] IUU explanatory video produced by Uncle Seyarogai, a comedian, calling for strengthening the legal system to combat “illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing,” is now available and signatures are now being accepted!
Reference site] Basic agreement reached on a framework to prevent fishing gear from being discharged into the ocean.
[Reference Site] Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic
[Reference Site] Enforcement of the “Fishery Distribution Optimization Law” for IUU countermeasures: What are the remaining issues?
[Reference Site] Report on Human Rights Violations in the Fishery Industry and the Involvement of Japanese Companies
[Reference Site] WWF: Promoting sustainable fisheries
[Reference Site] Japanese yellowtail aquaculture is the first in the world to receive ASC certification.
[Reference Site] NEXT MEATS is now commercializing alternative meat and egg products as well as alternative seafood products. Plans to launch “NEXT Tuna” as a Japanese brand to the world
[Reference Site] Seafood produced through responsible aquaculture
[Reference Site] Robert Baba developed a recipe for “Sustainable Seafood” using ASC certified ingredients!

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