By Molly Sullivan
For thousands of years, the sea has served Japan as a cultural and economic resource. The Japanese have made heavy use of the ocean surrounding their island nation, harvesting a host of marine organisms from sea cucumbers to whales. However, in recent decades the ocean has become a resource at risk, with the onset of climate change, overfishing and other threats. While management plans have been adopted for several fish stocks, species such as the blue fin tuna face collapse. As of 2009, 42 of Japan’s 84 fish stocks were categorized as low by the country’s Ministry of Fishing, Forestry and Agriculture. (Statistical Handbook of Japan 2012).
While fisheries depletion is a global issue, it is especially relevant in Japan where seafood consumption is staggeringly high. 23% of the average Japanese person’s protein intake comes from the ocean, almost 3 times that of the average American. As a nation, Japan consumes 7.5 million tons of seafood annually (Balfour et. al 2011). Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, where roughly 2300 tons of seafood is sold daily for an average profit of $15.5 million. The largest marine fisheries in Japan are tuna, bonito, sardines, Alaskan Pollock, crabs and squid (Statistical Handbook of Japan 2012).
The degree of depletion varies from species to species, but the fishing industry has seen a net decline in recruitment and profits in the past two decades. In 2011, the total catch was 3.8 million tons, considerably less than the 6 million tons caught in 1995. Financially, the industry has also suffered. Reported earnings were 1.5 trillion yen in 2011, down from 1.6 trillion in 2006 (Statistical Handbook of Japan 2012). Overfishing is largely the cause of this decline. The increased use of powered trawlers and other gear innovations paired with a growing demand for seafood has resulted in the overexploitation of marine resources. In addition, development has led to destruction of seagrass beds, crucial habitat for coastal species (Makino 2011). More....