Tuna, plankton and plum wine – exploring science-policy in Japan

Tuna prep. That is some red flesh!

Tuna prep. That is some red flesh!

One of my interests is to improve and expand the use of CPR data in marine policy, not only in the UK, but globally. There is one country in particular where I’ve really wanted to learn more about the science-policy interface and help scientists work better with policy makers: Japan. I first visited Japan in 2012 and was intrigued by this country of anomalies, contradictions and beautiful traditions and customs. While in Tokyo I visited Tuskiji fish market, the largest fish market in the world. The place was immense and hosted the most amazing marine biodiversity. I didn’t arrive until 4:30am so didn’t get to watch the world famous tuna auction, and I feared I wouldn’t encounter any bluefin during my visit. Well, I was very, very wrong. There were bluefin tuna. Hundreds and hundreds of bluefin tuna, most of which were bigger than me! Bluefin tuna are severely threatened and WWF actually considers them endangered. A key driver of bluefin overfishing is demand for high quality bluefin sushi. I was surprised to see so many individuals of what I knew to be a threatened species. I had many questions: What is Japanese marine management like? What kind of data inform fisheries management? Do we understand the role of climate in bluefin dynamics? If bluefin are endangered, how is this level of fishing OK? Or even possible? Are the gaps in the science or are the barriers at the interface between science and policy?

The tuna are THIS big!

The tuna are THIS big!

I'd be no match for one of these guys.

I’d be no match for one of these guys.

NEOPS

Toward the Better Collaboration between Scientists and Policy Makers

When I asked the above questions to a Japanese colleague, I was shocked to find out that there is little communication between scientists and policy makers in Japan and decisions are not always based on scientific evidence. So in June 2014 I went to University of Tokyo to take part in a workshop entitled “Toward the Better Collaboration between Scientists and Policy Makers”. The workshop was aligned with a multimillion dollar Japanese research project called NEOPS (The New Ocean Paradigm on its Biogeochemistry, Ecosystem, and Sustainable Use). The audience was a mix of Japanese government scientists and researchers, and the speakers were ‘experts’ in different aspects of science-policy working in Japan and internationally. I spoke about the use of CPR data to develop policy indicators and what lies behind SAHFOS’s successes in informing policy. The discussions throughout the day were fascinating. I was asked questions like ‘If you want to tell policy makers about a marine issue, what do you do?”. When I answered “Well, I phone or email Defra (UK government body in charge of marine policy) and I talk to them”, I was met with incredulity. It seems the relationship UK workers at the science-policy interface have with our policy makers just doesn’t exist in Japan. What was even more surprising, is that in the case of fisheries, the scientists and fisheries policy makers are in the same building but just don’t communicate.

The famous Akamon (Red Gate) of University of Tokyo

The famous Akamon (Red Gate) of University of Tokyo

In addition to the workshop at the University, I also spoke at the Japanese Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and the Fisheries Research Agency (FRA), which gave me the opportunity to meet many scientific researchers and a few policy makers. I spoke with the scientists extensively about the merits of long-term time-series, including the CPR, and how time-series research can reveal incredibly valuable insights that should be used to provide evidence for decision making. I was repeatedly asked the same questions along the lines of: How do you get policy makers to take scientific advice? How can we get our policy makers to care about issues we know are important? How can scientists begin to establish personal relationships with policy makers?

Networking, Japanese style, with JAMSTEC colleagues

Networking, Japanese style, with JAMSTEC colleagues

My impression was that Japanese scientists aren’t, or don’t feel, heard and that the links between science and policy are not explicit or transparent. There appears to be a lack of trust on both sides of the science-policy interface: Japanese policy makers don’t seem to want advice from scientists, and scientists don’t feel they can approach their policy makers. The personal relationships that UK scientific advisors have with our policy makers appear to be missing. Additionally, it seems that many of the scientists I met weren’t sure how to communicate with policy makers. We talked a lot about formatting and targeting scientific information, using indicators to communicate and making communication issue-linked. We kept coming back to examples of how SAHFOS does these things well with CPR data, and how lessons we’ve learned at SAHFOS might be extrapolated and applied in Japan.

So where does this leave the bluefin? According to some Japanese fisheries scientists I spoke to, the scientific community is completely aware that bluefin are overfished. However, as in many other parts of the world (including sometimes Europe), the desire for money, jobs and to maintain the fishing industry wins out over scientific recommendations and fisheries advice is severely watered down or ignored completely when setting catch limits. The good news is that just last week the Japanese Fisheries Agency has agreed to tighten quotas for seven fish stocks and “impose cuts on catching young Pacific bluefin tuna to help them reproduce”.  If these quotas are meaningful and enforced, this could be a positive step towards sustainability for some Japanese fisheries.

I find it interesting that in Europe and Japan we face some of the same challenges for fisheries management, when the processes and evidence flow supporting marine ecosystem management in general appear so different between the UK and Japan. I did feel as if the scientists I met became more positive that there could be a way forward the more we talked (and the more plum wine was consumed!), and I hope the relationship between Japanese scientists and their policy makers improves and that the use of evidence in decision making grows.

Have you had any science-policy experiences outside your culture?

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

 

And a few gratuitous non-work related snaps:

Tokyo lights, Shinjuku

Tokyo lights, Shinjuku

 

IMG_5345

Tokyo at night – from the Metropolitan Government Building

 

Hakone-jinja, Hakone

Hakone-jinja, Hakone

 

The Diabutsu, Kamakura

The Diabutsu, Kamakura

 

Gassho-zuri thatched houses at Shirakawago UNESCO World Heritage Site

Gassho-zuri thatched houses at Shirakawago UNESCO World Heritage Site

 

Matsumoto castle - built in 1504!

Matsumoto castle – built in 1504!

 

 

 

 

 

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About Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Marine biologist, guitarist, cat lover, red wine drinker. I like plankton.
This entry was posted in Knowledge Exchange and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tuna, plankton and plum wine – exploring science-policy in Japan

  1. Pingback: Preparing for my next sci-pol Asian adventure! | Plankton and Policy

  2. Pingback: Reblog: Witnessing the Last Days of Bluefin Tuna at the Tokyo Fish Market | Plankton and Policy

  3. Pingback: The end of the line for bluefin | Plankton and Policy

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