Fish farms and aquaculture provide about half of all fish for human consumption today, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation, with the other half from the global fishing industry.
With rising fish per capita consumption today due to several factors, such as rising disposable income and increasing preference for white over red meat for various health-related reasons, it stands to reason that regardless of fish sources, we should ensure that all these are sustainable, especially if we are to cater to the expected 9.7 billion people in the world come 2050.
In a recent interview with APFI, Kenjyu Kawamura, director of Kesennuma Shishiori Fisheries Processing Cooperative Association, speaks more on the association and his views on sustainability of the fishing industry.
Do introduce the association
After being hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, the town of Kesennuma-Shishiori gained a brand new perspective of and deeper respect for the ocean.
Gathering the wisdom accumulated over decades and making use of the geographic advantage of the Sanriku Coast—one of the world’s largest fishing grounds, the association implements joint facilities such as a large freezer and seawater sterilisation treatment facility, spanning over 90,524 sq ft and that cost JPY1.988 billion (US$17.8 million) to build, that mutually complement the fishery businesses and enhance resources.
What is the current overview of the fishing industry globally and of Kesennuma?
Demand for seafood and advances in technology have led to fishing practices that are depleting fish and shellfish populations around the world. Fishers remove more than 77 billion kg of wildlife from the sea each year. Scientists fear that continuing to fish at this rate may soon result in a collapse of the world’s fisheries. In order to continue relying on the ocean as an important food source, economists and conservationists say we will need to employ sustainable fishing practices.
The Kesennuma fish market contributes to about one percent of the fish in the entire world. We also feel a sense of crisis in the overfishing of fishery resources and we will further expand our efforts towards resource conservation.
Are many species of fish on the verge of overfishing?
Yes, take Bluefin Tuna for example. The fish is one of the largest and fastest on Earth, and is widely known for its delicious meat which is often enjoyed raw. Demand for this particular fish has resulted in very high prices at markets and has threatened its population.
Today’s spawning population of bluefin tuna is estimated at 21-29 percent of what is was in 1970. Some experts forecast that tuna will run out in Sushi restaurants entirely by about 2050.
In your opinion, what is meant by sustainability when it comes to fishing?
As the association, we have launched the “Kesennuma Local Fisheries Reconstruction Project” to improve resource protection and profitability, and production efficiency.
As one of its smaller projects, we have been trying to obtain the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate which is part of a conscious effort to respect our ocean ecosystem and comply with sustainable fishing methods.
Other than that, we have been working on research with “farming” as a theme and measuring stabilisation and protection of fishery resources.
Also, since a few years ago, we have been conducting joint research with Fisheries Colleges in Japan on onshore aquaculture (farming).
Is there a need to focus on sustainability at present?
Yes, I think the world is already focused on Aquatic Resource Protection at the moment. The decline in catch in Japan is alarming, and so resource conservation is an urgent issue.
To tackle this, the WWF and other organisations are recommending the fishing industries to adopt the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) system, where it would allow control of the amount of harvest, thereby managing the amount of resources. Also, with the MSC certificate being made mandatory, such organisations are loudly appealing for the necessity of resource management.
Especially for tuna and bonito, which are two of the more sought after species of fish, steps for resource management are already in place. The necessity of resource protection is increasing day by day, what with the designation of endangered species, etc., and it is critical that we take steps now to preserve our food sources.
It is said that there are two main factors that influence on seafood resources: climate change and overfishing. Especially with the latter, since it is something that we can easily have control over, we need to take action immediately.
To date, resource management and protection measures for overfishing seems to be effective, as efforts for “culturing” projects are seen in various countries around the world. The figures for world catch have not changed much from 30 years ago, despite increasing demand for fish and seafood products; I think this increase has been well covered by fisheries and the aquaculture businesses.
In Japan, overfishing by specific countries on the “high seas” (international areas that do not belong to one particular nation) is a problem, and I foresee regulations to become more and more severe, as efforts for the protection of fishery resources progress.
Consumers are also driving for sustainable fish sources. Today, we are seeing increasing intake for fish and seafood by consumers as they perceive it to be better for health and also contributes to an aspect of beauty. With the age of satiation, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and more are becoming more prevalent, and I believe that consumers will turn to fish diets in order to improve their health and prevent this.
However, consumers are also becoming more aware about where their food comes from. Sustainable and responsible food production is therefore becoming mainstream, with big players around the world either changing how they source their products, or making this more transparent.
Certifications such as Certification of Origin, etc., that clarifies where the product was captured, is becoming the standard in international transactions. Consumers have access to more information (and more misinformation) than ever before and those that deviate significantly from this concept may disappear from the dining table and retail shelves. I think that these current efforts are the most important to prevent adversity in the future.
How can fishermen around the world ensure sustainability? What equipment/methods can they use?
Sustainable fishing can be regulated by government or independent agencies through a process known as fisheries management. These bodies are responsible for setting catch quotas, enforcing boundaries, and licensing fishermen.
Lack of regulation can often lead to overfishing. Various efforts have already been made, but in some countries, overfishing is not stopping. I feel that it is necessary to further strengthen efforts that have binding power and cooperate internationally on the current situation.
Bycatch can be reduced with both sophisticated and simple methods. For example, fishermen of a particular area may use the equipment best adjusted to suit their resources, as well as share habits and knowledge of a species’ life history, migration patterns or other information.
These can encourage from only fishing during certain times of the year by studying the tides and moon and setting aside certain areas such as coral reefs and prohibited spots, to using hook and line methods to catch only what is needed, or even using more sophisticated radars that can determine the presence of any endangered species.
What are the benefits and challenges that fishermen can gain or face when ensuring sustainability?
Many individuals, communities, and nations continue to rely on fish and other aquatic life as a source of food and raw material. To maintain fish stocks, we need to reduce overfishing and bycatch through fisheries management. Managing fish populations is no easy task. It requires cooperation at all levels from the governments, to local communities and across nations worldwide.
Nations are responsible for regulating fishing in their coastal waters. A nation’s territorial waters do not encompass much of the huge ocean. The majority of Earth’s waters are the “high seas”. Regulating fishing in international waters is tricky; it requires nations with competing agendas and economic needs to agree on management approaches.
For example, around Kesennuma, the Sanriku sea waters fall under the fishing guidelines set by Miyagi Prefecture. After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, Kesennuma locals have been careful to maintain a healthy balance in the ocean habitat. Equipped with radars that can allow fishermen to determine the type of fishes in the area, they are able to make better decisions to leave the area if a particular species is on the decline.
Additionally, special advanced trolling (a catching method using long fishing lines) instead of trawling (using nets) is practiced for selective fishing and releasing catches.
Certain breeding seasons, breeding grounds and even young species are avoided by fishermen. If they are caught using unnatural methods to breed fish in the seawater, they will be fined up to JPY100,000 (US$900) or jailed up to six months.
When sharks or other marine animals are accidentally caught, ‘mottainai’ (Japanese term for appreciating all parts) of the life is practiced, and as such, the sea animal is not just processed into seafood, but its other parts are made into handbags, supplements, and cosmetics.
What are your thoughts for the future of the fishing industry? What do you believe has to change, or will change in the next few decades?
Catching so many fish at a time can result in an immediate payoff for fishers. Fishing this way consistently, however, leaves few fish of a species left in the ocean. If a fish population is small, it cannot easily replenish itself through reproduction.
There are ways to fish sustainably, allowing us to enjoy seafood while ensuring that populations remain for the future. In many indigenous cultures, people have fished sustainably for thousands of years. Today’s sustainable fishing practices reflect some lessons learned from these cultures.
“Aquaculture” has attracted attention in Japan, and it is undertaken by government and private sectors (industry, academia and government) as a management method of fishery resources. This movement will accelerate in the future. It seems that efforts cooperated by industry, academia and government will develop internationally.