Prince Rupert is built around seafood.
Commercial fishing is one of the main industries supporting this town of 12,000 on the northern coast of British Columbia. The container ports are busy, shipping out halibut and salmon. In the summer, the town swells with tourists. Sport fishers flock to the area angling to catch their own salmon, while cruise ship and ferry passengers arrive hoping for glimpses of killer whales, humpbacks, grizzly bears, black bears and eagles.
However, when sushi chef Daisuke Fukasaku arrived in town in 2008, he was disappointed to find a profound disconnect between local industry and local diet. “I was really interested in the seafood we have in Prince Rupert, but I also found there wasn’t much sold locally,” he says.
His first four years in town, Fukasaku worked at a sushi restaurant that relied on imported seafood and paid little attention to sustainability. At the local grocery store, things weren’t much better. That didn’t sit right with Fukasaku. He grew up in Tokyo and trained as a sushi chef in Ohio before moving to the West Coast to live closer to nature. He didn’t understand why local establishments sold Atlantic farm-raised salmon and imported snow crab and tiger prawns from Asia, rather than the wild salmon, spot prawns, side stripe shrimps, humpback shrimps and Dungeness crab available right at their doorstep.
“I don’t believe in food that has travelled a long way to begin with,” he says. “I wanted to show people what’s available in this area.”
In 2013, the chef struck out on his own and opened Fukasaku — one of the oldest sushi-only restaurants in Canada, serving an entirely Ocean Wise-certified menu that showcases local ingredients. The move was a risk. Not only were Fukasaku’s prices slightly higher than the competition’s, it would be a challenge for Prince Rupert’s small population to support the restaurant year-round. Plus, marine conservation and sustainable fishing practices were not exactly hot topics of conversation in town.
However, Fukasaku was resolute: “Overfishing is the biggest cause of the oceans getting destroyed. I really believe that if we keep our ocean’s healthy, we can keep serving the greatest seafood in the world for generations to come.”
After using his community connections to source local fishers, Fukasaku got creative with his dishes to offset higher food costs and make the most of his ingredients. For instance, he uses salmon meat for sashimi and marinates the skins for sushi rolls. The bones are used to make fish stock. “There’s no waste. That’s what true sustainability is,” he says.
The result is distinct, favourful and nutritious dishes that set him apart from the competition and have garnered a positive response from locals and tourists alike. Since opening, Fukasaku has seen steady sales increase year over year and it’s put Prince Rupert on the map in culinary circles. Other chefs have sought him out, hoping to follow his example. This has provided a boost to local fishers who are discovering a market closer to home. “So many other restaurants ask me who my suppliers are, and I’m very open to sharing,” says Fukasaku.
Meanwhile, Fukasaku’s experiment has spurred a deeper awareness of sustainability among his guests from near and far. While only about a quarter of diners at the restaurant ask where the fish comes from orhow it was caught, Fukasaku says each time he presents a dish it ignites an important conversation. “When I explain that everything is sustainable, and part of Ocean Wise, their confidence rises,” he says. “People from other countries are really impressed with what we serve here. When I tell them everything is from B.C. and caught in a sustainable manner, they’re even more impressed.”
Ocean Wise Seafood
Overfishing is the single biggest threat our oceans face today. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is an assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. With over 700 partners across Canada, the Ocean Wise seafood program makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. ocean.org/seafood/