Japan, Usufuku Honten

Japan, Usufuku Honten

First certification for bluefin tuna

In August 2020, Usufuku Honten became the world's first Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery to gain MSC certification. Its goals are to differentiate its seafood from unsustainable fisheries, have a stronger voice in Japan’s fishing industry and ensure ample resources in the wild for the next generation.

With 90% of consumers in Japan unaware of the MSC, Usufuku Honten aims to change this through the upcoming Olympic Games where the MSC label is mandatory.

Another reason for certification was concern over the rise of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) bluefin fishing, and a need to differentiate from it.

There is an exacting and precise system of logging for every fish caught

‘A vast amount of illegal seafood is circulating in markets worldwide and aquaculture is increasing, so although Atlantic bluefin stocks are recovering, their price hasn’t gone up,’ said Sotaro Usui.

‘A lot of cheap IUU bluefin is circulating in Japan, and because there’s no differentiation between them and others, bluefin that we have caught carefully, through strict resource management, is traded at the same low price as IUU fish. As the world’s number one bluefin consumer, Japan must strengthen its domestic fisheries policy and regulatory framework to mitigate IUU risk, and oversee exactly what’s entering the country. Through our certification, we want to make this clear. Meanwhile, the volume of good quality, fatty tuna in the wild is decreasing because the species isn’t eating enough small fish. This is because aquaculture catches a lot of these fish worldwide for feed purposes.’

Each fish caught gets its own unique electronic tag

‘If all wild fish are caught, the fishing industry will collapse. How can they co-exist?’ he continued.

‘We need to think about this. We must also never import anything that we wouldn’t eat or anything that we definitely wouldn’t feed our children. We mustn’t only focus on managing wild stocks sustainably. A significant expansion of aquaculture and fisheries is also important. We want to help change Japanese fisheries and distribution channels into something more sustainable.’

Usufuku Honten's sustainably caught bluefin tuna in a Japanese supermarket

Many cheap IUU seafood products are still being distributed through Japan’s markets. But hopes are high that Usufuku Honten’s MSC certification will highlight this issue as well as sustainability, and offer Japanese consumers sustainable bluefin in supermarkets and restaurants.

Although an increasing number of consumers care about where their seafood comes from and whether it’s sustainable, certified products can be seen as expensive so some won’t purchase. By working with market players and offering consumer awareness-raising activities, Usufuku Honten is hoping to change this mindset.

Sotaro Usui believes that the best way to achieve his goals is to lead by example. In addition to highlighting the importance of bluefin sustainability, he is teaching the younger generation about Japan’s fishing industry by promoting local fish and Kesennuma’s fishing industry at schools, where children learn about vessels, different species and how fish is prepared.

Established in 1882, Usufuku Honten began catching tuna in the seas off Japan about 90 years ago

‘We’re extremely proud of our MSC certification but it’s just the next step, not our end goal,’ he said.

‘We have a lot to do, but we’re excited about the future. I see us as a leader, encouraging Japan’s fishing industry to follow and I’m sure that many parties will. I’d also like to see some acknowledgement towards those who are doing the right thing and ensure that that happens in the fishing industry.’