Japanese Fishing Production and Consumption

In Japan, consuming fish has been a staple for centuries since some of the first farm- raised ponds were created over 2,000 years ago. In the 8 th century, ponds were installed in royal palaces as a means to provide fresh fish. And in the 16 th century, the first shellfish were raised and farmed in the Seto Inland Sea. Today, the Japanese fishing industry is significantly more complex and the popularity of sushi has helped shape Japan into a global leader in production and consumption. In 2007, Japan was the 7 th largest fishery producer at 5 million tonnes of output (FAO, 2009). Similarly, Japan was the largest consumer of fish in 2007 with nearly 56 kg/capita consumed. At its peak, Japan consumed nearly 70 kg/capita of fish or about 40% more than its nearest competitor Norway. And while Japan is a large producer and consumer of fish, more than half of the sushi grade salmon used in Japan today travels across the globe from Norway (Bloomberg, 2015).

Recently Japan’s population growth has been near zero and since 2011 has consistently been negative resulting in decreasing consumption by Japanese citizens (Statista, 2016). This decline in consumption has the Japanese government nervous about the future of the Japanese fishing industry. Figure 1 shows the steady decline of Japan’s fish consumption since 2001 and in 2010 Norway passed Japan as the leading consumer of fish. This $11.6 billion industry accounts for 0.24% of total GDP in Japan. Additionally, Japanese consumption of meat has been increasing significantly and in exceeded the consumption of fish for the first time in 2006 (Bloomberg, 2015). Japan is also the world’s largest importer of pork at over 791,000 tonnes in 2011 (FAO, 2011). Further, in 2003, this sector alone accounted for over 81,000 direct jobs in Japan so it makes sense that officials would begin to worry about the long-term viability of this industry.

So what have the Japanese been doing to try to combat the decline of their fishing industry? Japan has employed rock singers to dress as fisherman and sing hymns to ocean creatures and in 2008 a rock band called Gyoko released a song called “Fish Heaven” at a Fisheries Agency press conference (WSJ, 2010). Associations to promote fish take children on field trips with the intent of promoting fish culture and consumption. One official claimed that “without having to delicately remove bones, children are not learning chopstick dexterity” (WSJ, 2010). Some producers are even offering up fileted fish so that bones don’t become the deterrent for eating fish.

The main benefit to Japan’s fish production industry can also be seen in Figure 1. World consumption of fish has increased to nearly 19 kg/capita, up from 15.89 kg/capita in 2000. As a result, Japan has been exporting larger portions of their annual catch. In June 2015, Japan was on pace to increase its fish exports by over 25% from the same period the previous year (Bloomberg, 2015). To maintain pace, Japan has started creating elaborate distribution networks that move fish products door-to- door and even fly products to destinations to meet consumer demand. As a result, Japan’s fish industry has not realized the slowdown that would have resulted from its domestic demand decrease. Instead, Japan is positioned to use its export capabilities to supply the world with its fish products.

Adam Keckler

MBA Candidate 2016