The widening trend toward seafood eco-labeling in Japan Connections with sports festivals, and related issues

February 18, 2021

Olympics, Paralympics and UTokyo
Research, education and legacies related to the sporting event
The Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held in Tokyo for the first time in more than half a century. The University of Tokyo, which is also located in the metropolis, has a long history of involvement with the Games. As you learn about UTokyo’s contributions to this global sporting event, the blue used in the Olympic and Paralympic emblem may very well start to take on the light blue hue of the University’s school color.

The widening trend toward seafood eco-labeling in Japan
Connections with sports festivals, and related issues

Hiroe Ishihara
Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences


Sushi rolls and other fresh foods sold in European supermarkets now sport certification labels. Established with co-financing from Unilever and the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has certifications not only for the fishery industry itself but also Chain of Custody certifications for downstream processing, distribution and sales.

Eco-labels are used to show that a product is environmentally friendly or sustainable. The frog-adorned Rainforest Alliance eco-label on coffee products and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) eco-label that you might come across on the pages of a magazine are well-known examples. However, there are also eco-labels for seafood products. One is the MSC eco-label that shows that a seafood product has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent, non-profit organization based in the U.K. Such labels are aimed at preventing the depletion of marine resources through over-fishing, and guarantee that the seafood products bearing them were harvested with considerations for environmental sustainability.

“Supermarket chains in Japan have been working to foster the spread of eco-labeling practices in recent years, and the MSC’s blue eco-label has begun to appear on cans of tuna and crab sticks. Additionally, farmed seafood products are also subject to Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification,” Assistant Professor Hiroe Ishihara at the Laboratory of Global Fisheries Science explains. But does the sustainability of seafoods have anything to do with the Olympics?

“Sustainable procurement standards for the food products supplied to the Olympic Village and other Games facilities were first declared and placed into effect at the 2012 London Olympics, and will be followed at the Tokyo 2020 Games as well. The policies applied at large events like the Olympics do have a major influence on social trends.”

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, seafood products could not be supplied unless they had earned an MSC or ASC certification, but the scope of this policy is said to have been expanded for the Tokyo Games. One might assume this is because public awareness regarding the sustainability of seafood products is poor in Japan, but that is not the case.

“The MSC certifications that have become the mainstream chiefly in Europe and North America are aimed at fishery industries that harvest a single fish species on a vast scale, and are not consistently suitable for the many fishery businesses in Japan and certain developing nations that harvest multiple species on a relatively small scale. The extremely high cost of the certification process is yet another issue. Given that backdrop, the products supplied to the Tokyo 2020 Games will include seafoods that have earned independent Japanese certifications.”

Views on fishery management such as fishing methods and the release of fish fry by aquaculture operations also tend to vary nation by nation and present an array of additional challenges. Nevertheless, the use of eco-labeling and policies adopted at the Olympics and Paralympics are likely to provide momentum to efforts aimed at raising Japanese consumers’ awareness about seafood products. Ishihara is convinced of that.


* This article was originally printed in Tansei 40 (Japanese language only). All information in this article is as of March 2020.

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