Tuna Fishing in Japan Casts a Wide Net

Of all countries in the world, Japan by far consumes the most sea food per person. This is largely due to the unique culinary culture and the fact that Japan is an island archipelago that is completely surrounded by ocean. Of all the fish consumed by the Japanese, Tuna is one of the most popular with hundreds of thousands of pounds consumed annually. Japan’s tuna industry is also one of its most lucrative with revenues for tuna alone exceeding $2 billion. This is because tuna is used for countless tasty Japanese dishes like sashimi and sushi of various forms. Although tuna is a Japanese staple, its popularity has lead to significant decreases in tuna populations in the Pacific Ocean as well as globally. Of tuna that is fished, blue fin is the most sought after species and is often the most profitable. These potential profits further motivate tuna fishing which causes their numbers to drop down even lower. Tuna overfishing leads to a myriad of oceanic ecosystem issues from loss of biodiversity to decreasing water quality. If Japan’s love of seafood is to be sustainable, the workings of it’s seafood industry will have to undergo some drastic changes.

Tuna fishing in Japan and its associated problems lie at the core of the final leg of ENVS 220 – the situated project. This project focuses on a certain country that is visited by a Lewis & Clark College study abroad program and investigates a particular issue there. Through investigating the issue, we come up with framing (broad) and focus (answerable) questions about the problem as well as completing the “hourglass” approach. This method involves starting broad (top), narrowing while performing analysis (middle), then casting the results in a broader context (bottom). We have already begun working on the top of the hourglass by asking broad questions like: what are the consequences of cultural consumption? and how do social standards shape physical landscapes? In reading through many informative articles, we are becoming better informed to address these questions.

One source that I found particularly useful was Casting Our Nets Too Wide by Bonnie Le La Madeline. In this article, she talks about how tuna farming should be better regulated due to how taxing it is on oceanic resources and how degrading it is to the fish themselves. Tuna farming itself is different than other kinds of fish farming as it involves catching large quantities of tuna in the wild and raising them in a confined net. The tuna are never domesticated. Thus, such a method of fish farming still aids in decimating oceanic tuna populations. Also, the lack of regulation makes it difficult to control how many tuna are gathered to farm so over fishing can become a significant concern. Le La Madeline suggests that tuna will face extinction if our fishing habits do not change. If significant regulations aren’t put in place, it is simply a matter of time until we no longer have tuna.

It is clear that Japan’s tuna demand has led to significant oceanic issues and I am interested to learn more about the details of these as out project progresses. I am also interested to research how decreasing tuna populations will affect market price and how Japanese culture will adapt to such future changes.


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