Sunday, June 23, 2024

Overfishing in Japan

Written By Arav Barmecha (Grade 7)

Overfishing. We hear about this term in newspapers, websites, videos, and even documentaries, but do we really know what it is? To the naked eye, overfishing is the catching of too many fish at once, so the breed population becomes too depleted to recover. But, when you dig deeper you find the side of overfishing that no one is talking about. I’m talking about the industry that is responsible for exhausting 90% of the world’s fish population, the industry that kills millions of fish every day just so that humans can eat sushi, the industry that is responsible for 46% of the trash present in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is overfishing. 

In the year 2019, Japan consumed 8.5 million tons of fish compared to 7.1 million tons consumed by The United States of America which has 201.9 million more people. The annual consumption of fish and seafood is almost 24 kgs per person. Because of this, Japan harvests over 7.5 million fish per year. In 2017 Japan produced $14.3 billion from fish products and $14.6 billion from fish exports. Tokyo has said to reduce 50% of bluefin tuna catch, preserve the species, and take a step in the sustainable direction. 

After an international whaling ban set in 1986, Japan resumed commercial whale hunting and withdrew from the international whaling commission in 2019. The ships were permitted to catch 227 minke, Bryde, and sei whales. As of now, the sei whale is endangered and the Bryde whales are critically endangered. Today, over 300,000 whales are killed each year for their meat, oil, blubber, body parts, and even their cartilage. Whales aren’t the only animals Japan is ruthlessly killing. 

Every year in Taigi, at least 20,000 dolphins are killed by being cornered in a small cove and then are slaughtered. Some dolphins are caught and sold to marine parks for as much as 300,000 dollars each. Through publicly issued statements, the Japanese government emphasizes that “whale and dolphin hunting are a traditional form of livelihood in Japan, and that, like other animals, dolphins are killed to supply the demand for meat.” While this is a tiny market for dolphin meat, a dead dolphin can go up to 600 dollars. The fishers also view the dolphins as competition. In a recent interview, a fisherman said that the dolphins eat too much fish. The truth is that dolphins are being blamed for the overfishing that is taking place in Japan.  What Japan doesn’t realize is that when dolphins and whales breathe they fertilize marine plants called phytoplankton, which absorbs the most carbon dioxide. If dolphins and whales die, the ocean dies, if the ocean dies, we die.

Another huge problem in Japan is shark finning. At the port of Kesennuma, sharks are finned on an industrial scale. This port accounts for 90% of Japan’s shark-fin trade. Shark finning is the practice of catching sharks cutting their fins off and then throwing their lifeless bodies back into the ocean. The only reason sharks are being fined is for shark fin soup. It is a tasteless, nutritionless, and expensive dish. The only reason it is still around is that it holds cultural importance. It is a sign of wealth, and to maintain status. Every day more than 75 tons of blue sharks are laid out on the dock and finned. We are eradicating a species that has been here millions of years before us. Most people are scared of sharks in the ocean, but they should be scared of not having sharks in the ocean. Sharks keep the seas balanced, keep the fish stocks healthy, and also keep the ocean alive. As of now,  24 out of  31 species of sharks studied are endangered. Is this traditional practice worth wiping out an entire species that keeps us alive? “The Japanese government is trying to do its best to find fisheries who violate Japan’s shark finning ordinances” As it may seem that Japan is on top of this problem, they are ignoring and pushing this important issue behind. They don’t want to shut down a $1.2 billion industry. 

The biggest problem that is present to date is not global warming, not shark finning, not plastic pollution, it is commercial fishing. Commercial fishing is the only way Japan catches 10% of the entire world’s catch. Commercial fishing vessels are war machines, with SONAR, high power pulleys, and even hundreds of meters of nets. Commercial fishing takes everything that makes fishing somewhat sustainable and throws it out the window. All of this is to catch one fish. 

Bluefin tuna is a warm-blooded, cheetah of the ocean. Japan catches the majority of the Pacific bluefin tuna. In fact, Japan consumes 90% of the world’s supply of fish. In just one day the Japanese market for tuna sells 40 tons of fresh bluefin tuna, and 90 tons of frozen bluefin tuna. Due to this, the population of the Pacific bluefin is down to 3%. Pacific bluefin tuna is one of the world’s most expensive fish, that goes for tens of thousands of dollars. Pacific bluefin tuna is a target species, and where there is a target there is always a bycatch. Bycatch is the catching of marine life while trying to catch a target species. To put this into perspective, 273 million sharks die each year due to bycatch, 300,000 dolphins die every day just so that we can eat Pacific Bluefin Tuna. This is also the most commonly used fish in any sushi bar, which demands its supply. Tokyo has said to reduce 50% of bluefin tuna catch, preserve the species, and take a step in the sustainable direction. 

I think the Japanese government has been successful in completely ignoring the problems and damage being caused by overfishing. Yes, occasionally they find an illegal dock but, I believe they are keeping the idea out of their minds. Just because you find out about one illegal fishing dock doesn’t mean that you have successfully addressed the problem. Japan is overlooking the fishing industry because they produced approximately 14.3 billion dollars of fish products and imported 14.6 billion dollars in 2017. Japan doesn’t want to shut a multi-billion dollar company and suffer such an economical loss. They catch one illegal dock once in a while to stay in the clear, but their intentions are corrupted by demand and money.

Featured Image Courtesy – Hakai Magazine

Arav Barmecha
Arav Barmecha
Hi, my name is Arav and I live in Mumbai. I study at Ascend International School and I love writing.


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  1. Arav – I must say this is such an eye-opener of an article.. The world needs to wake up to these challenges yesterday, else as you say, there will be no ocean tomorrow..

    Would love to see a piece from you about the various types of sharks or whales as they exist in the world today..


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