Choosing environmentally friendly seafood in Japan

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > East Asia > Japan

Promotion of MSC at a supermarket in Tokyo. Japan.
© WWF Japan / Arata IZAWA


As one of the biggest producers and importers of seafood, Japan can no longer ignore the overfishing and the depletion of world fish stocks. Realizing the importance of the issue, WWF has been introducing the Japanese public to sustainably sourced seafood products through the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label, which tells consumers that the marine products are the best environmental choice.

WWF helped set up the MSC initiative to change the way fish are caught, marketed and bought so as to help ensure the future of the world’s fisheries. As an independent, non-profit organization, the council works with fisheries, retailers and others to identify, certify and promote responsible, environmentally appropriate and economically viable fishing practices.


Fisheries are considered to be the source of some of the most destructive human activities in the oceans along with marine pollution and poor coastal management. Throughout the world's oceans many fisheries are poorly managed leading to over-fishing through illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and bycatch.

To deal with these issues, WWF and Unilever jointly established the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 1997, a scheme to ensure sustainable fishing by certifying good fisheries and harnessing the consumer's power. MSC became an independent non-profit organization (NPO) in 1999.

Japan is one of the largest fishing nations and the largest importer in terms of value. In 2002 Japan caught about 6 million tons of fisheries products and imported 3.3 million tons valued at USD 13 billion (26% of the world's total fisheries product trade value of the year). The import includes highly priced items like tuna and shrimp. It is suspected that tuna includes IUU fisheries catches. Shrimp production is known to be destructive to mangroves in the tropical to sub-tropical regions. There is no doubt that Japan’s consumption of fish is affecting marine and coastal ecosystems in the world.

Japanese citizens have to take responsibility as consumers. On average, a citizen ate 69.1kg of fisheries products in 2001, 160% more than meat. To exclude illegal products and achieve sustainable fishing, the introduction of MSC to Japanese fisheries should make the market flow as transparent as possible.

Realizing the importance of the issue, WWF Japan has been preparing for MSC for several years. WWF Japan studied the fisheries industry, consumption, and repaired bad relations with the fisheries sector, including the government, industry and retailers. It has also supported MSC activities at a food exhibition held in Tokyo, and disseminated MSC information through its publications.


- Introduce MSC to Japanese consumers.

- Have some fisheries certified.

- Obtain support from retailers.

- Promote recognition of MSC in Japan.


- Disseminate information about MSC through WWF publications, website and media.

- Find candidates for MSC certification.

- Undertake a preliminary assessment for the candidates.

- Find partners in the marketing sector. Encourage partners to obtain the Chain of Custody (COC) certification.

- Encourage consumers to buy MSC certified goods by having the actual MSC dealings known through shop sales and communication activities.

- Enable the Panda Shop, WWF Japan’s eco-goods shop, to handle MSC items.


By March 2005

- The Danish Seine fishery for snow crab and flathead flounder in Kyoto Prefecture was identified as a candidate for MSC certification. A preliminary assessment was completed (project JP0057).

By March 2006

- The full MSC assessment for the first candidate fishery began in February 2006. This is expected to complete within 2006.

- The second and third candidate fisheries are being sought within the WWF community-based certification programme.

By March 2007

- The Kyoto Danish Seine Fishery Federation underwent the on-site assessment in May 2006. It is likely to be the first MSC certified fishery in Asia in 2007.

- A project to look for the second and third Japanese candidates for the MSC fishery certification has begun with the collaboration of WWF United States.

- There still are problems in Japan with the recognition of MSC. There are criticisms on it from the fisheries industry. It is very hard to find a partner with whom WWF can look for candidates.

- With the movement of the Kyoto Danish Seine Fishery Federation to full assessment, AEON, Japan’s largest supermarket chain, initiated sales of MSC certified products. Thanks to a sister project (JP0099), Promotion of Reliable Circulation of Fisheries Products, public awareness on the fisheries resources has so improved that WWF has received many inquiries on MSC from the media and fisheries industry.

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