Climate change threatens Japanese sushi culture. Here’s how – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article is brought to you through The European Sting’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Helen Nugent, Senior Writer, Training Content


  • Japanese sushi culture is threatened by climate change.
  • Rising water temperatures affect fish quality, while extreme weather events harm wasabi crops.
  • In the United States alone, the market size of the sushi restaurant industry reached $22.25 billion in 2019.

Sushi is synonymous with Japan. But this hugely popular food is under threat.

For the uninitiated, sushi is bite-sized and rice-based, often involves raw fish, and usually comes with slices of ginger and wasabi. Whether you are a fan of nigiri, gunkan or temaki and whether you buy it at the supermarket or enjoy it at a high-end restaurant, the global sushi market is big business. But climate change is starting to impact the industry.

The popularity of sushi

The global sushi restaurant market is expected to grow by $2.49 billion by 2025, according to Research and Markets. In the United States alone, the market size of the sushi restaurant industry reached $22.25 billion in 2019, according to Statista.

In a 2019 survey, Statistical also found that just over two-fifths of Japanese consume sushi in a store at least once a month.

How climate change could threaten Japanese sushi culture

However, just because there is a demand for sushi does not mean it can be met. In Japan, fishermen and women are worried about the stock. In an article published by Reuterspeople who have been fishing for years have expressed concern over an unprecedented number of unusually fat katsuo.

Otherwise known as skipjack tuna, the fish is a crucial part of Japanese cuisine, especially when it comes to sushi. Fishermen believe that fatty katsuo must be linked to rising water temperatures and therefore climate change. Data from local labs show that the average temperature in a bay in southwestern Japan – generally considered a profitable fishing area – had, over 40 years to 2015, risen by 2°C.

This warmer water portends future problems, including less katsuo. There is also the ongoing problem of overfishing which has decimated fish numbers and the reluctance of younger generations to follow their parents and grandparents into the family fishing business.

And wasabi?

And then there are fears about the future of wasabi in the face of climate change. In 2019, a particularly fierce typhoon season, full of landslides and heavy rains, had a devastating effect on Japanese wasabi farms.

As wasabi is usually grown along streams in narrow valleys, it is vulnerable to harsh weather. And, as global warming contributes to the frequency and intensity of storms, rising temperatures are also likely to harm wasabi production. Plants thrive in water that maintains a year round temperature between 10-15C. So, a combination of all these climate change factors has led to an unstable wasabi supply.

Is there a solution?

As with so many things related to climate change, adaptability is key.

“If this unstable supply of wasabi persists, due to many factors, including global warming, we will be faced with a situation where we will have to find other ways to solve the problem so that we do not end up not being used at all. raw wasabi,” he added. Norihito Onishi, sales manager of a noodle restaurant chain in Tokyo, said Reuters.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the surface of the globe and represents 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We cannot have a healthy future without a healthy ocean, but it is more vulnerable than ever due to climate change and pollution.

Tackling serious threats to our oceans means working with leaders in every sector, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, together with the World Resources Institute, brings together the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a program with the Indonesian government to reduce plastic waste in the sea to a global plan to hunt down illegal fishing, Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an integral part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the CEO Climate Alliance, who have reduced their companies’ emissions by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Learn more here.

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