Taking action to improve seafood sustainability and the ocean environment


Every year, Ezo Seafoods sources and sells tonnes of seafood and disposes a proportionate amount of packaging and material waste. As owner, and a daily visitor to Japan's wholesale markets including Sapporo and Numazu, I get a close look at the enormous transfer of the ocean's bounty to the tables and storefronts of Japan's seafood suppliers. I can't help being awed at the sheer volume of seafood and packaging that I see. Hundreds of tonnes of seafood arrive packaged in polystyrene cases every single day, thousands of tonnes in the case of Tokyo's Tsukiji markets. I find myself wondering more and more whether the ocean can actually sustain this level of fishing.





Until now, Ezo Seafoods' approach to sustainability has been guided by faith in the industry, which sets quotas and determines sizes of fish that may or may not be fished. Also, Hokkaido rotates the catch of popular seafood items (e.g. Uni) around the island on a seasonal basis to avoid overfishing in specific areas. However blind faith may no longer be enough. Anecdotally, for example, I see diminishing seasonal catches of salmon, pacific saury and other Hokkaido staples each year (pushing the prices higher and higher). I also feel that I am witnessing the effects of global warming before my very eyes. For example, wild Hokkaido trout, which was a favorite of customers in early January, doesn't seem to arrive until mid February now. It seems to get pushed back a week or so every year. We have stocked Akkeshi oysters for eight years now, but have found recently that the oysters can be spawny in January (they usually spawn in September).


How we act as a business impacts issues of both overfishing and global warming. Armed with little scientific understanding but many other anecdotal bits of information gleaned from years of following the seafood news in Hokkaido, my conviction that now is the time to act is stronger than ever. Accordingly, Ezo Seafoods will introduce the following four steps immediately. 




Researching sustainability has opened my eyes to the complexity of the issues and also the vagueries of really knowing what is sustainable and what isn't. Area, species and fishing method all play a role. It is especially difficult for me to judge because the tuna that shows up at the markets each day may be from the Maldives one day, or Indonesia or Mexico the next. And at the level of the trading floor in Sapporo, there isn't any information (or interest) in how the tuna has been caught. Regarding bluefin tuna, a popular sashimi fish whose stocks have been severely depleted, I had continued to sell it on the basis of the fact that it was farmed and caught to quota, and also that stocks have been improving, which they appear to be. But a quick review of sustainability resources including GreenPeace, National Geographic and The Guardian, indicate that Bluefin should be avoided at all costs until stocks improve drastically. The problem is that although Bluefin Tuna is 'farmed,' it is still wild caught. So the term 'farming' is somewhat misleading: it is not an acquaculture program that breeds fish; it's basically catching and fattening! In the meantime, Ezo Seafoods will no longer serve Bluefin Tuna. (Imported Yellowfin Tuna is also on my watchlist - I am now looking for a locally caught  alternative). 




We have used plastic trays, rubber bands, GladWrap and plastic "furoshiki" sheets to package up our seafood platters at Ezo Seafoods since we started nine years ago. Plastic is a cheap, convenient and hygenic method of packaging. But a quick drive around any coastline around Japan and you will see that too many plastic bags end up in the ocean, clogging the ecosystem, along with plastic containers of all sorts, various rubber objects and polystyrene. Research shows that plastic bags are used for an average of only 12 minutes! Accordingly we will no longer use new plastic bags and we will do our best to reduce usage of other plastic packaging materials. We are looking for alternatives. We will borrow a technique used at local fish suppliers in Japan for many years - simple newspaper wrapping. It may compromise the presentation of our seafood platters somewhat but as KellyAnne Conway would say "Get used it."


Polystyrene is another industry standard - cheap, functional and hygenic - but its also an enemy of the oceans. As far as I can see it is not recycled -- simply thrown into a furnace -- and it crumbles down to minute pieces and washes up on the beaches and in tidepools. Who knows how many fish are choking on it as I write... In the past I regularly filled up my van with up to 15 polystrene boxes daily holding scallops and fresh fish. But for the past several years, I have been insisting that my suppliers transfer seafood to plastic containers which reduce my consumption of polystyrene. It will take a long time before my humble efforts get noticed and effect a change in the industry, but in the meantime, I will do what I can to reduce reliance on polystyrene. 




Since 2014, Ezo Seafoods has operated a summer restaurant in Numazu, a well known tourist town at the top of the Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo. While we have been amazed at the natural beauty of the coastline, we have also been disappointed at the garbage that inevitably accumulates on the shoreline. We are surprised that local businesses and authorities don't take a lead in cleaning up the shorelines. It's not that difficult or expensive and makes a big difference to the tourist visitor experience. For the past two years we have been cleaning up the coastline at every opportunity and have organized informal clean ups with local volunteers. This summer season we will take our activities to the next level and use our menu to advertise for volunteers to clean up the shorelines on a regular basis. Once the immediate shorelines are improving, we will conduct clean ups further up and down the coastline.




Ezo Seafoods has always focused on fresh local seafood. However we have also catered to popular demand and offered imported products that aren't available locally, such as shrimp or tuna. The problem with this approach is that you focus demand on a limited number of globally popular seafood, e.g. tuna, salmon, cod and shrimp. What I am starting to realize is that in the long term this approach isn't sustainable because ecosysmtems require a balance of species to keep them vibrant and healthy. I think scientists call it 'biodiversity'. From next season, I will introduce a new live seafood tank to keep more fresh local choices readily available, such as Surf Clams, Abalone, Asari shellfish, live King Red Crab and Hanasaki Crab.


Finally, every night, my customers ask me "What do your recommend?" From now on it will be to "Eat like a fish" -- be a generalist and expand your choices of seafood, even if it means being somewhat adventurous.  I came across the following poem which I encourage all to try and internalize.



For a sustainable seafood dish, try eating more like a fish;

Avoid food web distortions, mimic nature's proportions;

That's right, be a generalist.

The variety of sealife is broad, so don't just eat boring old cod;

Most sea species are edible, and quite unforgetable;

Even if at first some seem odd.

Let the ocean select today's flavor, that's truly the way to save her;

The ecological fix, is to consume a true mix;

So just vary the seafood you flavor.

Sarah Schumann, To save our fisheries, eat like a fish



These are small steps in the bigger picture of things, but a first step in better understanding the impact of our business activities on the environment. I welcome your opinions and suggestions to further improve our sustainable environmentally-oriented business activities.



James Gallagher

Ezo Seafoods
































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