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Tuna collapse fears fail to curb Japan's appetite

52 Comments
By Malcolm Foster

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I think the Japanese work ethic is also to blame. When fishers in other countries are hit with moratoriums, they are idled and collect unemployment insurance, and most are pretty happy about that, as long as it doesn't become permanent. In Japan, it's different. The employers work 'em hard for long hours, restricting vacation or any time off (as with all industries throughout Japan). 

So the priority is to relentlessly keep workers and working. "The devil finds work for idle hands" is a Christian adage, but no one takes to heart as much as the Japanese.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Yet there is little alarm in Japan, the country that consumes about 80% of the world’s bluefin tuna.

There doesn't seem to be any alarm in Australia either where the southern bluefin catch limit for the 2012-2013 season has been increased by 3 percent compared to last season, to 4,698 metric tons.

When it comes to bluefin tuna, the stance taken by Australia is the exact opposite of their stance on whaling. Here's what Brian Jeffriess from the Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association has to say about the Japanese market:

"We've been for a long time dependent on one market and one currency and it's been a very, very good market for us and will continue to be the dominant market for us into the foreseeable future but the lesson of the last three years is we have to start stronger marketing in other areas of the world," he said.

According to the Australians, the Japanese aren't eating enough bluefin tuna.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

"A single full-grown specimen can sell for 2 million yen at Tokyo's sprawling Tsukiji fish market."

This is incorrect - at Tsukiji in January, a 222-kg Bluefin tuna sold for a record price of 155.4 million yen. http://en.mercopress.com/2013/01/12/bluefin-tuna-opens-2013-with-record-auction-price-at-tsukiji-1.78-million-dollars

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

like they say, better eat your fill before that darn fish becomes extinct.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

A single full-grown specimen can sell for 2 million yen at Tokyo's sprawling Tsukiji fish market.

This is the typical price not the "record" price which was a New Year's special event kind of thing.

I have seen some reports on TV about their numbers falling, but I really haven’t thought about cutting back on eating hon-maguro,” said Sumire Baba, a Tokyo homemaker. “I guess I’m optimistic they’ll recover.”

Optimism in the wake of ignorance.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

“I don’t think it’ll disappear, but we might not be able to catch any. It’s obvious we need to set quotas.” -

Japan's next "cultural" whale! And where is SS when the tuna fleets go out?

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

It’s all very short-sighted

Ta-daaaa! At least now some Japanese fishing management experts are piping up rather than just those pesky know-it-all foreign cultureless busybodies

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Ta-daaaa! At least now some Japanese fishing management experts are piping up rather than just those pesky know-it-all foreign cultureless busybodies -

Piping up? This is relatively old news, it's just a reminder.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yet there is little alarm in Japan, the country that consumes about 80% of the world’s bluefin tuna

.experts blame cozy ties between regulators and fishermen and a complacent media for failing to raise public awareness.

“I have seen some reports on TV about their numbers falling, but I really haven’t thought about cutting back on eating hon-maguro,” said Sumire Baba, a Tokyo homemaker. “I guess I’m optimistic they’ll recover.”

A perfect microcosm of Japan on so many issues -- Ignorence combined with arrogance leads to lack of change. But the shame in this case is that this willing burying the collective heads in the sand does not hurt just the Japanese, as the whole world ill suffer when the over-fishing wipes out the species. Japan needs to grow up and take some responsbility. The responsibility that comes with consuming 80% of the annual catch. But it will NEVER happen.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Of course, this story has been rolling for years and there have even been suggestions that it is in the interest of some, who have plenty of blue fin tuna in their industrial-sized freezers, to almost wipe the fish out. In any case, vested interests are hard to overcome partly because few seem aware of the vested interests. And fishermen, like farmers, get endlessly good PR.

On a wider view: Keep on doing what you do as hard as possible, obliviously, until it cannot be done any longer, then blame someone else. This seems to be the typical modus operandi of Japan.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Sumire Baba ,( a Japanese home maker ) that made me laugh !

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I would walk through the Tsukiji fish market and wondered how can there be anything left in the ocean. I see our native fishing grounds raided and pillaged illegally by foreign pirates who take more than they can eat. It is not just Japan.. I see fish markets in China to Taiwan, with even less respect for nature.. selling acres of shark fins and anything that people would pay for. Let this be a warning to the post war generations who over consume with no conscience or respect for nature who only think of today and selfish desire not even needs. I see factory ships gutting the ocean not only of tuna populations with no respecte the breeding and timing of the sea. I see a growing farm raised culture with fish that are fed genetically modified feed. A master fisherman is not greedy or corporate or wasteful in their practice of the ancient craft.. for they know if you never turn you back on the ocean and respect the sea.. the sea will care for you.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

It would seem every country has to learn this lesson for themselves. In Canada we fished cod until there was a moratorium. Japan can still turn this around if it wanted to but it seems it's heading for similar outcome. Fish in general being a major protein in Asia will then after tuna move to other fish and that will dwindle down too. Limits need to be set.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It all comes down to mass consumption versus environmental conscience. Europe has tried, with varying degrees of success, to implement consumer awareness campaigns to highlight the origins and availability of food sources. Buying local produce and considering carbon footprints are now part of consumer psyche for some, but this is still offset by budget shopping in lower income brackets. Still, Japan must make a concerted effort to increase awareness in consumers and not simply fall back on 'traditional values' as an excuse to bolster government subsidised farming and fishing.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Kimokekahuna Hawaii: Always looking for an excuse to bad mouth Japans neighbors aren't we?

For your information, Shark fin is also widely eaten here in Japan, you can even buy instant Sharkfin soup at supermarkets and convenience stores.

Rather than shifting that little blame finger lets focus on how we can curb this little overfishing thing globally eh?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I think the Japanese should give quotas on the tuna that are being caught. That way the culture of the Japanese and the blue fin tuna population are both preserved.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

One point most blame Japan of the single source of depletion but if you look around Sushi shops are all over the world. Tuna are shipped to Tsukiji from all over the world but a lot of that same tuna is shipped all around the world from Tukiji because it fetches the most making Tukiji the largest tuna market in the world.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

SamuraiBlueMar. 03, 2013 - 10:37AM JST

One point most blame Japan of the single source of depletion but if you look around Sushi shops are all over the world.

Do you have comprehension problems? Japan consumes 80% of the worlds bluefin tuna, therefore they are to blame for the depletion. There might be sushi restaurants all over the world, but their sum consumption of bluefin tuna is only 20%.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

And where, may I ask, are Sea Shepherd on this particular issue?

In the mediterranean, releasing illegally-caught tuna and being rammed by irate illegal tuna fishing boats

http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2010/06/17/sea-shepherd-frees-800-bluefin-from-floating-cages-below-libyas-infamous-line-of-death-174

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Cleo, Right on target.

SS is a single issue enterprise and they are quite busy. Will their model be useful elsewhere on other issues? I kind of doubt it, but it is surely working for the whales. Let's not expect them to take on all the problems of the world. Overfishing needs to be addressed by every nation, and not just wishful "housewife Baba" hands over the eyes and ears.

Go Cleo and Go SS!

2 ( +5 / -3 )

We should ALL AVOID eating TUNA! Sure it is tasty but it is not the ONLY tasty fish in the world! Fishermen etc..listen to $$$$$, if we, CONSUMERS say, Japan, Taiwan, etc...screw you and your overfishing of TUNA etc...by not CONSUMING TUNA, I bet these greedy folk in the fishing industry will CHANGE THEIR TUNE!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

SamuraiBlue: "One point most blame Japan of the single source of depletion but if you look around Sushi shops are all over the world."

It's amusing that you don't see many people if any directly blaming Japan but simply pointing out the fact that 80% of blue fin tuna end up here and people here TAKE that as blame.

in fact I remember last time this topic came up some Japanese posters saying it was the rest of the world's fault for infringing on Japan's cultural right to eat tuna, as though overfishing were a nationality.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Blue fin tuna stocks are down?? No worries my Japanese friends, Whale populations are at an all time high. When the last Blue Fin hits the dock you will still have plenty of whale flesh to consume!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Like all Japanese business, too many old guys at the top - meaning things will never change. They just don't care.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Japan needs to be put in its place when it comes to respect for the sea.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Cripes it's not like the Japanese are not aware of this problem, it's been going on for a number of years and there are quite a few folks doing something about it from the supply side of things. There are tuna farms in a number of locations in Japan and they are raising literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tuna.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The population of bluefin tuna is already collapsing and may never be able to recover. For many years they have been taking the biggest and strongest fish out of the gene pool and, as a result, the fish are getting smaller and weaker by generation. This pattern is not only for bluefin but for many other species of fish. Sadly, the 'eat it while you can' attitude is quite a sound one because it is highly likely their population will crash and they will become extinct in the near future. "Otsukade sama!"

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

There is no market that trades Blue fin tunas more than Tukiji and the world fish market sends the most of the blue fins to japan to be traded at Tukiji. There are no other way to measure how much they had been consumed beside measurement of the amount caught and the amount sold at a certain market so Japan ends up with this title. If there was a major market that trades blue fin tuna as much as Tukiji then this figure would had been off setted.

If you were a fisherman and knew the blue fin that you caught will fetch three time the amount then if it was sold at your local market which will you sell your catch?

That is how this market and measurement works.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Jpns media sucks about reporting about anything that is not already common knowledge. But,

This article itself is guilty of vast underreporting-

Not just Tuna!

Almost all commercially fished fish is really on the verge of a sudden and drastic collapse. It already happened on NE coast of US with cod in the 80s and 90s. They are gone now, and do not recover their numbers fast or maybe even at all. Check the rates of fishing for cod over the decades leading to the collapse and the number of cod, and the way the age of the fish changed in the few years before the real collapse, and you will see very similar shaped graphs for many other fish today. ON THE EDGE. Really dangerous.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

A shame, something must be done to protect these fish. I really wish there was an international group that focused on preservation and sustainability. Overfishing bluefin? Fines and penalties!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are tuna farms in a number of locations in Japan and they are raising literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tuna.

Most of those farms are merely fattening stations for juvenile tuna taken from the wild. Getting the tuna to breed in captivity is extremely difficult, and still in the experimental stage. Kinki University have developed the Kindai Tuna, which is more or less identical to the wild bluefin except that it can be grown and bred completely in captivity. Problem is that (apart from the ethical problem of the migratory, very fast-swimming tuna being kept its whole life in a cramped little cage) the Kindai is even more expensive than the bluefin.

Remember too that fish farming, especially of carnivorous fish like the tuna, involves the taking of vast amounts of other fish from the wild to use as food; it takes around 11 kilos of mackerel to produce one kilo of farmed tuna. Next headline: Mackerel threatened with extinction.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

cleo

Remember too that fish farming, especially of carnivorous fish like the tuna, involves the taking of vast amounts of other fish from the wild to use as food; it takes around 11 kilos of mackerel to produce one kilo of farmed tuna. Next headline: Mackerel threatened with extinction.

Whether bred in the wild or bred in a farm they are going to eat the same amount of fish. As for Kindai tuna farming tecnique, they have signed with various companies and are now not only selling fully grown blue fins but also small frys for other fish farms to breed.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

"Japan's appetite"

its the rest of worlds consumption that has increased

...but lets "blame" the Japanese anyway.

Same as with over previous fishing whales; that was more to do with "the west" but we'll try and hang that on the Japan too.

Anyway it the illegal overfishing of tuna by local Europeans that needs to be properly enforced ...which it wasn't, hence the easy work around let's proposes an outright ban proposal of export to Japan a couple of years ago.

-13 ( +1 / -14 )

read the article naff?

80%= japan

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It's good to see all the comments about this issue -- but the general public and government here doesn't care as we all know -- so it is up to us. Here are some ideas how we can help move the message in Japan. First we need a web site to start the education such as this one: www.seachoice.org. Or is there one already that I cannot find. And for other ideas to help take a look at this YouTube Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VxMhMMDOvSs

It is up to us [concerned citizens] to start this the PR and change.........

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Radiation, aging population, whaling for "scientific research", "Abenomics", unagi, and now bluefin tuna. Denial (or blind optimism) at its most severe.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Remember too that fish farming, especially of carnivorous fish like the tuna, involves the taking of vast amounts of other fish from the wild to use as food; it takes around 11 kilos of mackerel to produce one kilo of farmed tuna. Next headline: Mackerel threatened with extinction... -

NOOOO! I'll take saba over maguro for sushi any time.

Let's all eat lower on the food chain (including more grains and legumes and less meat)..

1 ( +2 / -1 )

SamuraiBlue: "Whether bred in the wild or bred in a farm they are going to eat the same amount of fish."

Which is leading to extinction of the species, regardless of farming (not sure why you defeat your own point like that, but hey). And anyway, a lot of the Kindai tuna was wiped out in the tsunami of 2011.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Huhh?????I really do not understand what you are trying to point out here if there is enough farming done of the species then there is no fear. What is your point?

Kindai Uni tunas are bred in Kyushu. How in the hell could the tsunami have had any effect???

Get you facts straightened out will'ya.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Whether bred in the wild or bred in a farm they are going to eat the same amount of fish.

But the amount of fish being taken now is not sustainable. Breed more and more tuna in captivity and you need more and more other fish to feed them. So you end up depleting the numbers of the feed fish, which in turn, since tuna aren't the only fish that eat mackerel, has an effect on other fish stocks.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

McDonalds is gutting the sea of North Pacific Pollack to make fish McBites which are getting to be very popular.. so you know what that means.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

There is also the China effect as they gain in wealth they want to eat more fish. I heard some Chinese tourist in Hawaii ask their kids what they wanted to eat and they started shouting .. Sushi, Sushi, Maguro, Maguro.. and off they went to Morimotos.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Blue fin Tuna is very tasy. However it will not last forever it there is no regulation for fishing industry. During my visit to Myanmar or Burma, fishermen did not catch fish during their mating season. Fish do not like human they can mate any time or any day. Fishermen give annesty for some fish stock become matured as reproductive age before catching them. If fish couple have mated, there will be many and many fish eggs will be ready for next generation. Catching fish before mating is unwise.

Even third world nation like Myanmar can make the regulation why not Japan can't? If Blue fin got extinction, there will be no more tasty Sushi or Sashimi. For the sake of sustainablity, Japanese have to eat more vegetables instead of fish.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'm afraid that bluefin tuna are doomed. There is no will in Japan to impose catch limits and even if there were such limits they would be ignored.

Give it a few years and I guarantee we'll be able to enjoy items on NHK blaming the Koreans or the Chinese for the lack of bluefin tuna.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

tuna anyway polluted and high in mercury. i got my blood checked after eating 3 times a week tuna in japan for 6 weeks. my mercury levels 4 folded !!! stay away from big fishes. our oceans are polluted.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

cleo

But the amount of fish being taken now is not sustainable.

Source please, and please refrain from generalizing, which species are you talking about please be more specific.

The point is if there are less predetors in the habitat then the species lower within the food chain will bloom(and crash). This is the how the food cycle works so I don't think you really need worry about the other species.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Another point I would like to point out is that the western industrialism had severely damaged the food chain by overfishing the lower fishes within the food chain like anchovies, sardines and other small fish in the Atlantic and eastern pacific as source of protein for animal feed. This practice had heated up when mad cow disease had cought the attention of the public and the beef producers required an alternative source of protein and became further exploited when bio fuel had gain the spot light making corn and other staples expensive.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

But the amount of fish being taken now is not sustainable.

Source please, and please refrain from generalizing, which species are you talking about please be more specific.

Tuna. It's in the article.

This is the how the food cycle works so I don't think you really need worry about the other species.

Except that homo stupiditus has messed up the food cycle and now thinks he can fix it by messing it up more. If you really want the natural food cycle to work, you need to leave it to its own devices for a while - a moratorium on hairless simians with big brains going out to sea in huge boats and literally hoovering up the oceans. Tuna used to be a luxury item, now people think it's a staple and get upset at the prospect of not being able to eat it several times a week, it's ridiculous. The answer to diminishing food resources is not to trash the environment still further, but to work on holding the human population and its appetite to more sustainable levels.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Most edible fish stocks are under severe strin. and we keep moving down the taste/edibility chain as we see less and less of the good stuff. Japanese consumers will continue to demand their bluefin unleaa their government stops them. and probably the Chinese will also get in on the conspicuous consumption aspect of this. Relying on Sea Shepherd and the like will just not do it. Nor will an outright ban (see drugs, ivory etc etc). Needs people to change their ways.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

do they even have a clue what sustainability means?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

we should be getting going on phytoplankton burgers real soon now

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan is tied to fish as a major source of protein more so than most and will not react well when there is no Plan B. It would have gone a lot better if Japan recognized the problem instead of hiding away and created a self moratorium given the 80% consumption rate. I don't get why everything has to be a disaster. It doesn't have to be. Can Japan stand up to its own future and do something to help itself? That would be nice to see

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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