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The Toxic Saga of the Tsukiji Fish Market (eater.com)
140 points by fern12 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments



Funnily enough, I live in Toyosu, and can see where the market should have been moved to from my house.

The cause is simple enough: graft and corruption on all levels and at a massive scale, exposed in large part by Yuriko Koike (the relatively new governor of Tokyo).


Some similarities to the Berlin Brandenburg Airport saga. They were only a few weeks away from a planned move of all the airlines into the new airport in 2012, when it turned out there were massive flaws in the design and construction, and allegations of corruption.

Now it's 2017 and the airport still isn't ready... Maybe 2019?

https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/01/e...


>It’s also fairly obvious that the fishmongers weren’t widely consulted during the construction process. The shiny new stalls for vendors are closed off in an attempt to be more sanitary, but the design deeply limits the mobility of the fishmongers, especially when cutting large hunks of fish. (In one television program about the new space, a wholesaler showed just how difficult it is to go about his business of slicing tuna as his elbows repeatedly bumped up against the cubicle-tight walls.)

s/fishmongers/programmers/g

"It’s also fairly obvious that the programmers weren’t widely consulted during the office remodeling process. The shiny new office for the programmers is an open space in an attempt to be a more collaborative environment, but the design deeply limits the ability to focus of the programmers, especially when working on the complex pieces of code. (In one twitter periscope stream about the new space, a programmer live tweeted just how difficult it is to go about his business of coding as his focus was repeatedly broken and/or his attention was repeatedly called for by the multitude of other people's happenings in the wide open space of the office around him.)


It's really frustrating how hard it is to properly manage/use a resource like the ocean.

We're not running out of chicken, but we are running out of fish.


We are running out of the very small selection of species of fish that we want to buy. The wast majority of fish belong to those that we don't want to buy, which either get thrown away or sold for almost nothing in order to be smashed into animal feed.

To say that we are running out of fish (generally) is problematic since there is overpopulation problems in lakes near where I live. The problem is that the fish isn't the kind that people want to buy, so fishermen goes where the money is.


Fish discarded are dead also.


Actually in long term we are running out of all fish due to acidification of the oceans. But that will happen much further in the future.


Jellyfish should be fine


And sea turtles!


Because we are feeding the fish to the chickens. We provide the calories for the chicken to grow, but we harvest fish without such inputs. If we were harvesting wild chickens, or at least chickens that caught their own food in the wild, we would certainly wipe them out in a matter of days if not hours.


we're also feeding fish meal (from the ocean) to farmed salmon in aquaculture operations

i think it was Cousteau who said that farming carnivorous fish like salmon was just a terrible idea. it requires a really high ratio of fish meal protein to salmon protein, something like 6 to 1.

we'd be better off farming more fish that behave like Tilapia. they can eat their own excrement.


I think you have to work on that pitch a little. Eats its own shit?


Whatever, Tilapia is tasty and ecological.


Yes, I like Tilapia too. But the pitch may need tuning nevertheless. :)


Do you eat rabbit? Rabbits eat their own shit.


I've lived on farms with dogs, cats, pigs, goats, horses, chickens, etc. The only farm animals I haven't seen eat their own shit are cattle, but frankly it wouldn't shock me to make that discovery someday.


you've got to be shittin me. I suppose you assume the animals were in distress from captivity.


Certainly not. I've lived on farms most of my life, and I have no moral objections to farm animals, their lot in life, or their occasional coprophagy impulse. It really isn't that weird to eat shit. Has anyone alive really not seen a dog do it?

Did you really create a new account to make that comment? What's the motivation there?


Because they need to recyclate some specific kind of valuable vitamin created by bacteria from rabbit stomach, I think, so they need to pass two times by the gut the same material. In any case what rabbits ruminate does not apply to Tilapia, is a different kind of animal.

If Tilapia arent feeded, they will eat algae and smaller Tilapia. Small tilapia fry can survive eating microbes and algae that grow in organic residues for a while, but this is a different question. Giving cattle the minimum to just survive is not the same as farming cattle.


I understand the logic of this phrase, but I don't see Cousteau eating a lot of herbivorous fish in his films. When they fish and cook fishes in the Calipso, are often from carnivorous species. Because carnivorous fish are delicious, and herbivorous fish often just so-so. There is not reason to put your money in a product that nobody will buy.

On the other hand, Tilapia needs proteins. Few animals can trive eating just its own discarding products, void for definition of anything that would merit to be recicled by the fish metabolism.

If their fish (or cattle, or poultry) is so hungry that start to eat their own excrement, they are just making a very poor product, and scamming their customers.


In Australia where Basa fillets can go as cheap as $5/kg in a supermarket (Chicken breasts are can be as cheap as $9/kg for reference), some people don't buy Basa fillets. Why? The reputation of basa is that it's farmed poorly in Vietnam where people shit in the same farm that grow fish.

Note: Basa is a type of catfish that can grow well despite dirty water.


why not grow crickets for salmon feed?


i personally would not object to that. i guess farms are not set up to do that (yet).

i've heard that wild sockeye salmon eat a lot of insects and therefore wind up with lower levels of mercury than, say, tuna. farmed salmons is not sockeye.


Passenger pigeons were hunted to extinction as food for humans. Last one died in 1914. Hunting supposedly intensified sometime in the 1800's... so probably significantly less than 100 years to hunt a bird species to extinction.


Fish farms are a thing too (and an ecological problem)


Tragedy of the commons. If people owned areas of the ocean in the way they own areas of land for farming, this would be less of an issue.


There are plenty of examples of well-managed fisheries but it takes cooperation with/from the fisherman and enforcing the regulations so that fisheries remain sustainable.

Here's a list of North American fisheries, some of which are well managed: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/statusoffisheries/2011/second/Q...


Look how Victor Harbour in South Australia managed its fishing allocations for a great example of how to pull this kind of thing off. But it’s not easy.


Unless the oceans had a low rate of return, then you would kill all the fish as quickly as possible and invest the proceeds in higher-returning assets.


For others interested in solutions, look at the traditional Swedish farmer's methods of managing common resources. Actually a Nobel Prize was awarded based on work documenting and implementing these and similar practices in far-flung areas of the world in need of them (e.g. cod fishing in the Atlantic, common resources in Africa, etc).


Just convince the fish to stay in their registered area.


It's not quite as easy with the ocean. Land doesn't tend to flow around freely.


And the ocean is _deep_, too, and it's much easier to pollute your neighbours.

But the basic principle is the same: private property rights can help mitigate these problems.


Tell that to the 1322+ Superfund sites in the US costing ~1 billion per year.

The optimum strategy for small land ownership is often maximum exploitation. In the case of the ocean fishing people would fish as much as possible, and just wait for more fish to wonder back.


Yeah that's because your bankruptcy laws are broken AFAICT - it's too easy to hold insufficient funds for post operational clean-up, then transfer assets elsewhere and declare bankruptcy.

That is, private owners in this case are able to socialise the cost of their operation, which is no more private ownership than when the profits are socialised.


For a country that functions so well, it's amazing it can still have such occurrences of dysfunction and corruption. Sounds like this mayor would be a good prime minister.


>"Tsukiji is the most exalted fish market on earth, the sort of humbling place that causes the likes of globally worshipped god-chef René Redzepi to deem it one of the “seven culinary wonders of the world.”

What a cringe-worthy sentence that is. Also what a load of crap that sentence is. I'm guessing the writer has never actually been. Tsukiji is a wholesale fish market. Its smelly, cold and wet with lots of flash frozen fish sitting on warehouse pallets. Just like what you would expect a wholesale fish market to be. It just happens to be in Tokyo.


I highly disagree. I have visited many times, and I find it to be a truly magical place. The mind-boggling variety of life from the sea, the frenetic energy, and the tuna auctioned for tens of thousands of dollars - it made an indelible impression on me.


>"I highly disagree. I have visited many times, and I find it to be a truly magical place."

I am curious how many other fish markets have you been to?

Mexico City and New York City have similar scale fish markets with just as many varieties and with just as much commerce. I'm guessing someone like Anthony Bourdain or some other TV food celebrity put Tsukiji on the tourist map and so now people feel compelled to see something special in it.

And I honestly can't understand why anyone would get up before dawn to go to a 5:30AM fish auction if they didn't work in the business and understood Japanese.


It's a matter of personal preference whether anyone enjoys a visit to a fish market like Tsukiji. That's entirely separate from its commercial and cultural significance. You mentioned NYC has a similar scale to Tsukiji market - I don't think that's true. Although Fulton Fish Market is the world's second largest and the most important in the US, it handles about 200M pounds of fish annually vs Tsukiji's 1.6B pounds. Tsukiji handles almost an order of magnitude more fish. When you start diving into the diversity and quality of product available, they aren't even comparable. Japan eats about 10% of the world's catch. Tsukiji is the Silicon Valley of seafood. Network effects and supply and demand mean Japan has more access to higher quality product than anywhere else in the world. Whether seeing a dead fish on ice is interesting or not is up to you.


> And I honestly can't understand why anyone would get up before dawn to go to a 5:30AM fish auction if they didn't work in the business and understood Japanese.

You know why. Hipsters do it for bragging rights.


Or you know it's actually an interesting experience. Have you done it?


IT's not really that interesting, and you have to get in line around 2AM for it.

Better to go around 11 right after the tourist rush.


Yes, I have done it. Not for bragging rights, just because I wanted to see what it was about. Far from being impressed.


I'd have to beg to differ.

As someone who is passionate about food, cooking and in particular, japanese cuisine - going to Tsukiji was really an amazing experience.

Learning first hand from a wholesaler about the daily process of acquiring stock which they go on to sell was fascinating. It's really astounding that people are going there every morning and inspecting ~1000 tuna for a mere few seconds, inspecting only by colour and occasionally the fattiness of the tissue in their fingers. These split second assessments then lead to them making a ballpark valuation of the stock which they take with them to auction - the decisions affecting their livelihood.

If you have had the opportunity to sample sushi from across the spectrum of quality - you'll know full well that there is good sushi and bad sushi. Considering sushi is something like 7 ingredients (rice, mirin, soy sauce, sugar, fish, vinegar, wasabi) the execution of the dish and the quality of the ingredients are absolutely key. Being able to go to the heart of where everything begins is really quite exciting.


> If you have had the opportunity to sample sushi from across the spectrum of quality - you'll know full well that there is good sushi and bad sushi.

I eat sushi often, and I have been to good and bad places alike. But as a sushi amateur, I don't really grasp the passion of Japanese for tuna - it's not even a fish they used to have in the first place in Japan, most of it is not fresh and is just imported from the Mediterranean, and to my tongue tuna (and I tried about every part of it) is nothing I crave for. I enjoy a LOT more the local fishes they have in Japan. Again, it's probably just me, but I find tuna utterly boring in mouth.

> the decisions affecting their livelihood.

Not really. Plenty of bad sushi joints stay afloat for years and do not lack customers. I have even eaten at famous places near Tsukiji and I have found it to be OK, but nothing at a spectacular level despite their reputation.


Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree - perhaps it's simply a matter of different interests as I get pretty excited going to butcheries and equally found Smithfields and Billingsgate (in London) pretty exciting. So maybe I'm just a food nerd.

>Not really. Plenty of bad sushi joints stay afloat for years and do not lack customers. I have even eaten at famous places near Tsukiji and I have found it to be OK, but nothing at a spectacular level despite their reputation.

I'm not convinced your observation is really a valid response to what you've highlighted. If your professional reputation revolved around buying and wholesaling tuna, it naturally follows that your livelihood depends on the decisions you make when you buy your stock. Maybe when you make a bad purchase you can recoup some of the losses by selling to one of the bad sushi joints that you mention, but you have still lost time and probably margin. You may have also disappointed customers who may have been depending on your usual quality stock. So for me, having any first hand insight into the nuance of another person's way of life in interesting and made the visit to Tsukiji a worthwhile experience.

Getting up once late at night is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, even if only to cross off a (hypothetically bad) experience.


Tsukijo was a tourist hotspot with people doing that before the word "hipster" became a thing.


Hipsters existed before there was a word for them?


I went for the last time probably 7-8 years ago, before I had ever seen any TV coverage of it, so my opinion is my own, and not biased by some Food Network star. When I went, there was no line to stand in, in fact you could walk freely among the tuna before the auction started (on my last visit, they were just starting to put procedures in place to keep people from taking selfies with the fish).

On my visits, I roamed around for hours, entirely unmolested, just keeping an eye out for the funny little electric carts driving everywhere which threaten to mow down unsuspecting tourists.


Most fish markets in Japan are like that. Tsukiji is just bigger. Actually it's dirty there and it's in a poorly maintained area of Tokyo that was never made for that in the first place. The fish market in Sapporo is much, much nicer.


The one in Sapporo is a tourist trap.


Oh so you think Tsukiji with its "authentic" sushi joints operated by Koreans and Chinese is not a tourist trap?


>the tuna auctioned for tens of thousands of dollars

I'm not sure that the trade in endangered species is anything to get excited about.


One of the few fish markets selling whale meat. But the tourist community keeps tolerating it.

update: And for some reason I get downvoted for denouncing something that is against our best interest... whales regulate the oceanic carbon cycle. You kill them and contribute to ocean acidification.


Honestly the entire seafood industry is a disaster. Nearly 80% of the ocean biomass has been destroyed. It's the only part of the food system that still relies on hunting wild populations of animals and between the many countries involved, it's really hard to regulate how much is really being taken. It's very depressing how many species are on the brink because of this.


It's the food equivalent of oil drilling. Oddly enough, it seems many folks who are uncomfortable eating land animals for ethical reasons have no qualms about strip-mining the oceans.


I think those people have their hearts in the right places, but likely just haven't done their research [0] as less attention is paid towards it. Horrible farming conditions are something that happens right on American soil so it's easy to denounce and witness, not so much for the global seafood industry.

[0]: Another case is Quinoa which used to be a staple food for poor Bolivians who have now been outpriced by the demand (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans...)


A few hundred whales, particularly the non-endangered minke whales targeted by Japan, won't disrupt anything. The west's obsession with beef is a much larger environmental issue than eating whale ever will be.

On that note, much of the whale I've seen, bought, and eaten in Japan has come from Iceland. Norway also seems to kill more whales than Japan does, yet the whaling in Europe is completely ignored. Japan's "otherness" makes it easy to target them, and it's obvious since I see the whaling issue frequently come up even when it's not related to the topic at all aside from "Japan" or "fishing" being mentioned.


I'm not for or against, I just don't understand the market. I had whale prepared a few different ways in Japan and they only decent preparation was thinly sliced and raw. It just tasted like a tougher, slightly fishier, worse version of beef. I could understand it if it was significantly cheaper than beef, since domestic and even imported beef can be pricey. But it's often times more expensive than anything but the highest quality.

I expect the market will slowly collapse as the Japanese who grew up eating it in school slowly die out. Most people my age had never even eaten it.


It's an old people thing. Once upon a time whale meat was served in Japanese schools. Those who grew up eating it want to eat it now. They are dying out and the younger generations (us) have no taste for the meat.

Try finding anyone in the UK under 60 willing to eat tripe or jellied eels.


Never thought of the nostalgia factor but that makes sense. Fwiw the school means served it because those regions (and the entire country) was too poor to afford any other kind of meat.

I believe some traditional crafts use some kind of whale whiskers, but I wouldn't imagine that is that big a factor.


I have seen it suggested that it comes down to bureaucratic territory marking.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35397749

Reads like something from the darker portions of a Douglas Adams novel, but I find it entirely plausible.


Coupled with an element of irrational nationalism. "Everybody's telling us to stop doing something pointless/counter-productive, but it's a part of our culture!" (See also: gun ownership.)


Someone once told me that the actual delicacy is whale blubber. You have to figure out what to do with the rest of the whale.


Can't you just eat something else?


"update: And for some reason I get downvoted for denouncing something that is against our best interest..."

I downvoted you for complaining about, or questioning, your downvotes.

Don't do that.


You sure put them in their place. +1 e-peen. That'll teach those damn karma whores. Keep fighting the good fight. Fugg the whales xD.


That is unfortunate. Whale hunting is illegal now in many countries, but the Japanese do like whale meat and continue to find ways to hunt them. I saw an interesting documentary maybe 4 years ago about how some hunting ships would find whales under the guise of science research, but really harvest them for food. Some countries stopped honoring the scientific licenses of the Japanese ships that allowed them to enter their waters. I'm not sure how much the affinity for whale meat has to do with tourism, though.


The research rhetoric itself is questionable. Research is expected to at least produce some report or publication, but many of them have produced neither for years.


The Japanese people largely don't like whale meat. Its sales have been declining and they're having a hard time convincing children to eat this weird fatty meat. Japanese whaling probably won't last another generation. But the Japanese do like tradition, so for now, whale hunting persists.


Alright, I'll bite, _how much_ do they regulate the carbon cycle?


> _how much_ do they regulate the carbon cycle?

"We estimate that rebuilding whale populations would remove 1.6×10^5 tons of carbon each year through sinking whale carcasses." [1]

"these changes are small relative to the total ocean carbon sink" [1]

The total ocean carbon sink is 10^9 tons of carbon each year [2]. So the changes in whale populations have had a 0.016% influence on the ocean carbon sink. So, not much.

But in the future when different geoengineering methods are suggested, maybe their impact in terms of tons of carbon per year could be compared to the size of this effect of stopping whaling altogether.

[1] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal....

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_sink


I believe he is referencing the fact that "whale falls" (the ecosystem that subsists for decades on the corpse of a whale that died and sank in deep water) move the mass of the whale to the deep ocean, where it typically doesn't surface except on geologic time.

The obvious counter is that even at pre-human population levels the whales are an insignificant fraction of the shallow ocean biomass, and that artificial algea blooms over deep water could easily replace this carbon transfer in a sustainable way.

Perhaps more interesting is that the lack of whale falls has probably already driven to extinction many of the deep water species that prey on the drop sites. Those that are left are at risk. And at least until we can catalog the genetic diversity of these ecosystems, that could be a tremendous loss. There may be biological processes adapted there that are useful to us, in bio-engineering or medicine.


Also their poops keeps nutrients in the system, feeding algae that consume co2 and feeding stuff that eat algae*

*citation needed





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