Sustainable fishing is important for the millions of fishermen who depend on the oceans for their livelihood and to the billions of people who eat fish.
But at the moment there is little sustainable fishing. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was set up with the dual task of convincing both fishermen and consumers of the importance of sustainably caught fish. In this episode of Helping Social Entrepreneurs, Alvin Hall’s task is to help the MSC to convince both fishermen and consumers of its importance.
We travel to Japan – the biggest consumer of fish and where more than forty percent of all fish sold is now imported.
The oceans are under extreme pressure and many fear we are running out of fish. A grim example of this is the experience of the Grand Banks Cod Fishery, off the east coast of Canada. It had been landing tens of thousands of tonnes of cod every year for centuries. But in the early 1990’s, one of the world’s most abundant populations of the fish suddenly collapsed, leading to a total fishing moratorium.
According to Rupert Howes, the CEO of MSC, forty thousand fishermen lost their livelihoods.
Over the past fifty years, the amount of fish caught around the world has increased five times and more than 200 million workers world-wide survive by catching fish.
The MSC was established in 2000 to help transform fishing. A partnership of businesses, scientists and environmentalists, it certifies seafood that has been caught in a sustainable way.
At the moment only ten percent of seafood is certified by the MSC as sustainable. Recently it moved into the biggest and most challenging market – Japan.
Although Japan has only two percent of the world’s population, it eats ten percent of its fish. It’s a national obsession. We visited Tokyo’s Tsukiji market – the world’s largest – where they trade more than 400 different types of seafood, from wriggling eels to 300 kilogram tuna.
Before World War Two, the vast majority of Japan’s fish came from local waters. But now, because of depleted stocks, forty percent of fish are imported. If the market is to have a future – it is essential that the fish are caught using sustainable methods.
This will not happen unless customers understand the importance of sustainability and demand MSC-certified fish. But few Japanese people know anything about MSC or have even heard of them.
But the solution may lie in the small Japanese port of Yaizu. Here, some fishermen still use the traditional pole-and-line method to catch skipjack tuna, rather than nets. This is more sustainable because young, small fish, that have not yet reproduced, can be thrown back. But fewer than thirty percent of Yaizu’s fish are caught this way.
Hiroyuki Myojin, the president of the local fish processing plant, is determined to change this. His ambition is to get his processing company MSC-certified, not only to ensure his own future, but also as a marketing tool. He only buys pole and line-caught fish. But winning certification is a rigorous process. To be successful, not only does the fishery have to be certified, but the entire supply chain.
Every step is checked, from fishery to processor, distributor, right up to the ultimate retailer, whether a supermarket or a restaurant. It takes many months.
Myojin says that “given the choice, 99 percent of Japanese consumers would choose tuna caught by pole and line. Unfortunately, the fact that the MSC logo proves the fish is sustainable is not commonly known among Japanese consumers.”
And that’s the problem. Without consumer awareness, there is little incentive for fisheries to take the time to make the necessary investment to become MSC-certified.
To tackle this, the MSC is now forming alliances with big retailers to market the benefits of sustainable fish. At an eco-fair in Tokyo, the MSC’s Rupert Howes proudly displays the results of months of planning.
Aeon, the biggest supermarket chain in Japan with more than 1,200 stores, dedicated a third of its stand to display its MSC-certified products.
The MSC hopes that with more consumer awareness, there will be greater incentive for fisheries to take the time or make the necessary investment to become MSC-certified.
During the making of this film, Mr Myojin factory in Yaizu gained its MSC certificate.
A huge MSC logo adorns the exterior of the factory. The certificate itself is proudly displayed inside.
My Myojin discovered that it was not just good for fish, it was also good for business. He said he had had around thirty inquiries from overseas and he was exploring doing business with those companies.
Fish has been fundamental to life in Japan for hundreds of years.
Mr Myojin invited Rupert Howes to accompany him to a local 2,000 year old Shinto shrine. Dedicated to agriculture and fisheries, it’s where local people have always come to pray for bountiful harvests, big catches and the safety of their fishermen.