When fishermen land a really big catch that makes their boat list under the weight of the haul, they do not necessarily expect their good fortune to continue the next day. They know their operations are affected by factors beyond their control, such as tidal currents and water temperatures.
In recent years, there has been a steady decline in the haul, likely a result of marine pollution and overfishing. While an overabundant catch can depreciate the fish’s market value and hurt fishermen financially, they are in just as much trouble if there are too few fish to catch.
Facing dwindling yellowfin tuna and bonito hauls, producers of canned tuna are reportedly struggling--to the point of contemplating price markups. As it is difficult to profit from canned tuna, makers have not been high-spirited. In fact, canned tuna output has decreased to less than 40,000 tons a year from 60,000 tons 10 years ago.
One of the causes of the poor catch is said to be La Nina, which brings down water temperatures in the seas off Peru to the Central Pacific. However, whether La Nina is really a cause is debatable.
Canned tuna is becoming popular in developing countries because of its nutritional value. The rising demand is likely to further highlight the scarcity of the fish.
The Asahi Shimbun’s “be” section recently asked its readers to name their favorite canned food, and tuna topped the list. A half century has passed since the leading canned tuna product, labeled “Sea Chicken,” was first put on sale. The name characterizes this product as an affordable alternative to chicken.
There was indeed a time when chicken was considered superior to lowly tuna. But their positions have since reversed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some food makers today came up with canned chicken labeled “Land Tuna.”
Eel is another fish that has become rare in recent years. After three consecutive years of record poor catches, the price of elvers has skyrocketed. And with imports also dwindling, “kabayaki” broiled eel has become more expensive than ever. It appears that the depopulation of fish in general is under way.
With sushi leading the way, a healthy fish-eating culture has spread throughout the world. I feel proud as a Japanese citizen that the rest of the world has awakened to the tastiness of fish, but I shouldn’t be too boastful because Japan’s younger generation is increasingly turning away from seafood.
I hope that sea-bordering countries will soon put their heads together and figure out how best not to deplete the world’s fish resources.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 15
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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