Can Greenpeace Convince the Japanese to Stop Eating Red List Fish?

A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

It’s easy to hammer the Japanese for their rapacious consumption of seafood in general and bluefin tuna specifically.


Though it boasts a relatively small population (127 million), the island nation consumes about 30 percent of the world’s seafood take, and Japanese processing boats scour the globe nonstop scooping up any and all of the much-prized bluefin tuna.

Now comes word from Greenpeace that a little nudging might shift the attitudes of Tokyo’s people-on-the-street regarding the future of fish.

Timed to coincide with Japan’s celebration of “Marine Season” (with one day devoted to honoring the sea and praying for its fishermen), the local Greenpeace branch has published a “red list” suggesting 15 species of fish that should be taken off the table in Japan, including five species of tuna.

According to Greenpeace, “Japan consumes 25 percent of the world’s tuna, including more than three-quarters of the remaining critically endangered bluefin tuna.”

“The ongoing destructive fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna, which begins this month, is only one example of how fishing industries and governments are failing our oceans,” says Wakao Hanaoka, Greenpeace Japan's spokesman.

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Japan&39;s demand for fresh fish is seen in Tsukiji&39;s rush of activity. (Photo: Fiona Stewart/Oceans 8 Films)

The list of vulnerable fish species includes Atlantic salmon, bluefin tuna, Greenland halibut, monkfish, red snapper and shark.

Whether or not Japan's first-of-its-kind list takes hold is yet to be seen. (The list is shaped like a fan, an appeal to the crowded nation’s love of multi-purposing.)

Previously, Greenpeace tried the red list tactic in 13 countries, with varying success. Supermarkets are ranked according to their commitment to selling sustainable seafood, and appropriate boycotts are encouraged.

In the U.S., the group ranks Target and Wegman’s as the best providers of sustainable seafood.

Changing attitudes in Japan may be a tough sell. Three days before Greenpeace went public with its red list, a 981-pound bluefin was caught off the coast of Japan, the biggest since 1986, and was sold at the world’s largest fish market—Tsukiji—for $36,700.

That’s hardly a record price; to date, the most expensive tuna sold at Tsukiji went for $177,000.

Thanks to global overfishing, the increasingly rare tuna is known as the “black diamond” in Japan. Called “otoro,” a single piece of the underbelly can sell for $22 in a Tokyo restaurant.

As this video shows, there appears to be no slowdown in activity at the Tsukiji market.


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