Japan, Usufuku Honten

Japan, Usufuku Honten

Sustainability for future generations

Japanese fishing company Usufuku Honten is drawing attention with its recent MSC certification for bluefin tuna, and new longliner Daiichi Shofuku Maru.

Kesennuma city in northeast Japan is home to one of the country’s largest ports and a fishing industry that’s the backbone of the local economy. But nine years ago it was the scene of deadly destruction after a giant earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11th, 2011.

Sotaro Usui, president of Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing operation Usufuku Honten, witnessed scenes of unimaginable destruction. But later, he saw an opportunity – to transform not just Kesennuma’s fishing industry but also that of Japan.

Deep-frozen, tagged bluefin tuna

‘After the disaster there was no food, and we survived on one rice ball a day,’ he said.

‘We quickly realised how vital food is and how we can’t survive without it. As time went on, young people in Kesennuma graduated from high school and went away to bigger cities. Having learned the importance of food in order to live, and noticed many local industries like fisheries and agriculture that we should be proud of, I felt it wasn’t right that young people showed no interest in them and the government wasn’t providing any assistance.’

‘Unfortunately in Japan, primary industries like agriculture and fisheries are declining,’ he continued.

New longliner Daiichi Shofuku Maru brings together much new thinking. Image: Akihiro Yoshida, Takumi Ota

‘I felt I had to draw people’s attention to them once more and make the fishing industry more attractive. Fortunately, during the disaster, I met many people outside the fishing industry who wanted to work with me on this.’

To attract the next generation of fishermen, Sotaru Usui contacted Japanese design firm nendo to create the interior and exterior of a modern, comfortable tuna longliner that would embody his ideas. The result was Daiichi Shofuku Maru.

At 486gt and with capacity for 23 crew, the concept is for an attractive fishing vessel where people want to gather, somewhere that can relieve the crew’s mental and physical stress.

Deconstructing Usufuku Honten’s trademark of Japanese emblems including chigai-yama (mountains), hoshi (star) and ichi (one), nendo designed a pattern of straight lines and circles to accentuate the ship’s form and the hull’s curvature.

The idea also comes from the notion that because humans aren’t accustomed to long periods at sea, straight lines that are reminiscent of buildings, windows, doors, smartphones or TV screens may provide some comfort. Linear patterns and materials are also scattered at random and in moderation through the vessel to create spaces with different characters and avoid repetitive interiors.

Other additional features designed as reminders of life on land include the furniture – bulky table tops and stump-like stools that appear to be rooted to the floor. The ship’s lighting provides a sense of serenity and security, while a relaxing, green scent designed to recall life ashore spreads throughout, created by master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel.

‘Our fishing industry exists because it’s supported by many people, including fishermen and boat builders,’ Sotaro Usui said.

‘It needs professionals but unfortunately their number is declining steadily. If we don’t address that, it will be impossible to pass the industry on to the next generation. To make it more appealing, we need a stylish vessel that differs from conventional fishing boats that look like work vessels and we must revamp the industry so it draws people to it. To catch tuna, the crew goes through ten months of intensive labour with considerable mental and physical stress. We want to provide living quarters that reflect life on land as closely as possible.’

Daiichi Shofuku Maru operates from Las Palmas to fish in the Atlantic. Image: Akihiro Yoshida, Takumi Ota

With Las Palmas in the Canary Islands as a base, Daiichi Shofuku Maru catches Atlantic bluefin tuna deep off the Irish coast in October and November. Outside of those months, the target species are bigeye and yellowfin in the central and southern Atlantic.

Daiichi Shofuku Maru is Japan’s first domestic tuna fishing vessel to have high-speed Wifi on board. Not only does this help the crew to stay in better contact with family and friends, but it’s also enabled the installation of POLARIS Navigation from the Japan Weather Association. This system provides weather and ocean forecast data, optimum route information and assistance with optimising transit times.

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