If you want to witness a display of marine abundance and diversity unrivaled nearly anywhere on planet earth head straight to the heart of Tokyo, grab your rubber boots and take a stroll through the cavernous Tsukiji fish market.
Tsukiji market stands at the center of a global seafood trade that reaches nearly every corner of the ocean, every fishing ground, and handles almost every conceivable seafood product, from wild Kamchatka sockeye salmon to giant tuna from the Mediterranean to Maine lobster. Few countries have a bigger influence on global seafood markets, international fishery issues, and overall ocean health than Japan. The freshest and highest quality seafood in Tsukiji still come from waters surrounding the Japanese archipelago, which hold some of the most productive fishing grounds on the planet. But domestic fisheries have been in decline for decades, a legacy of overfishing, degraded ecosystems, and negative socio-economic factors. More than half of Japanese fisheries are collapsed or over-fished according to the United Nations Fisheries and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO).
For the average Japanese consumer, this has meant higher prices at the market and increasing difficulties in enjoying traditional “washoku” food items. “Unagi” (eel), for example, saw a peak commercial catch of 232 metric tons in 1963 but that catch was reduced to a measly 5 tons in 2011. Meanwhile, the price of Unagi quadrupled in the last decade alone. For coastal communities and fishery cooperatives across Japan that have beared the brunt of the fishery crisis, the situation is even more severe; a whopping 800,000 Japanese jobs have been lost since the fishing industry’s peak in the 1960s.
Opportunities for Sustainable Fisheries in Japan
To learn more about the complex issues facing Japanese fisheries see our report titled "Opportunities for Sustainable Fisheries in Japan" which provides analysis and practical recommendations to restore ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal communities across the Japanese archipelago.
Japan Rapid Assessment Summaries
We conduct rapid assessments (see the Japanese fishery summaries here) of strategically important fishery species to better articulate the fisheries landscape and to clearly map out the potential for fishery improvement and third party certification of fisheries targeting these species. These assessments will help inform policy, management, funding, and the direction of sustainable seafood work across the globe.
Hungry for more Japanese seafood? See the fishery improvement success story of the largest chum salmon fishery in the world.