As a Vancouver chef and a sustainable seafood advocate, Japan has been on my bucket list forever. This year, the dream finally came true when I spoke at the Seafood Legacy’s Sustainable Seafood Summit in Tokyo.
Right after stepping off the plane, I started wandering the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo, passing sushi and ramen restaurants and back-alley yakitori joints. Some of my most memorable meals were breakfasts of miso soup and onigiri snacks that I ate on a wander around the Imperial Gardens. Japan blew me away: the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern, the cleanliness, the politeness of the people, and, last but certainly not least, the food. Oh my goodness, the food.
At the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, I experienced Japanese seafood culture firsthand. As the largest fish market in the world, Tsukiji moves more fish daily than any other market on earth. I snacked on a quick tamago breakfast in the outer market before passing through the gates and into the inner market. Here was seafood heaven: herring roe on kelp, abalone, Japanese snapper and, suddenly, I came upon the king of tuna: bluefin. Toichiro Iida, an eighth-generation tuna wholesaler, was in the process of breaking down a huge specimen.
The reverence for and cultural importance around bluefin in Japan is breathtaking. But I also saw the sustainability side of this scene: bluefin tuna populations are severely overfished in all the world’s oceans. There are so few of them left that even seeing one was emotional for me. Then I read the bluefin’s tag: Prince Edward Island, Canada. This fish and I had come half-way around the world to meet in Japan, at the biggest fish market in the world. How surreal. It also reaffirmed my mission in Japan: spread the sustainable seafood movement.
My role at the Sustainable Seafood Summit was to share my experiences as an Ocean Wise chef, helping to create and spread a sustainable seafood program across Canada. Sustainable seafood is a relatively new discussion in Japan, but a group of young, passionate chefs and seafood champions are on the case. There are so many opportunities out there for chefs, restaurateurs, and fishers who care about where their food comes from. I can’t wait to see what this group of committed individuals will accomplish. The conversation around sustainable seafood is a worthy one, as is protecting our most valuable and challenged resource.
Blog post by Ocean Wise Executive Chef Ned Bell