Joining the SPOGOMI leadership
has been a thrill for Sakana-kun.
It’s time to SEA things differently!

Guest lecturer at Tokyokaiyo University, Sakana-kun draws from ample experience in the field to offer clear talks about fish and fisheries. In 2015, he received an honorary doctorate from Tokyokaiyo University. His lectures encourage a fact-based conversation about marine life that includes tasty recipes, environmental concerns, and ideas on how to work with members of the fishing industry toward a stronger future. In 2010, he made a confirmed sighting of the kunimasu, a rare fish species previously thought to be extinct. As recognition for his efforts to promote increased awareness of ocean life, he received the Prime Minister Award from the Government of Japan. A native of Tokyo, he lives in Tateyama.

Sakana-kun is a guest lecturer at Tokyokaiyo University who makes daily visits to the ocean, for his research.
We asked him about his concerns and hopes for the sea.

Sakana-kun, how has the sea changed since you were in primary school?

Off the Boso Peninsula, Sagami Bay, and Tokyo Bay, we don’t SEA anywhere near as much seaweed as we did when I was little. When the ocean gets too hot, and it becomes devoid of nutrients, it starts to lose its signature seaweedy color. Another result is that you can SEA lots of coral in Boso! Look down into the water through a snorkeling mask, and you just might SEA a table coral looking back at you. Surprise! The influence of warming seas is wide-reaching.

Sakana-kun, how has the sea changed since you were in primary school?

How are warming oceans affecting fish?

Recently, a fisher in Futtsu, the coastal city in Chiba Prefecture known for cultivating nori seaweed told me that “kurodai have acquired a taste for nori and are gobbling it up!” Back in the day, the water off the coast of Futtsu would drop as low as nine degrees Celsius in winter. These conditions were great for nori and were too cold for the kurodai to hatch in great numbers. With sea temperatures on the rise, however, the kurodai snack on nori all winter long. This has prompted fishers to install protective nets to keep them out, though the kurodai find their way in one way or another.

How are warming oceans affecting fish?

Have there also been changes in the kinds of fishes being caught?

Certainly. In Tateyama, where I’m from, it’s a surefire sign of winter when the fixed nets fill up with suzuki, marking the start of spawning season. Come spring, it’s kurodai, followed by aji, then isaki, with the schools of fish changing with the season. A few years ago, however, we started seeing fewer kurodai in spring, instead catching huge numbers of shokko (juvenile kanpachi). Lately, fishers in Tokyo Bay have been catching boatloads of gurukun, the official fish of Okinawa. It used to be we’d find a couple riding on the Kuroshio Current, but never anywhere near this many! Folks in the Tokyo area shouldn’t hesitate to try out this delicious fish. SEA for yourself how tasty gurukun can be, fried like karaage or nanbanzuke. Pretty soon, it might be a local favorite.

Have sanma catches shrunk because of warming oceans too?

Yep! Because their migration routes have been pushed further out to sea, in search of cooler waters, they’ve become harder to catch. Everyone loves sanma in the fall, when they’re fresh, but these days they’re available all year. Their popularity has led to a robust market for frozen options. There are about 4,000 different saltwater fish to be found in Japan, but most people partake in only 20 or 30 species. This is way too narrow a focus. With so many delicious fish out there to choose from, we can help ensure that sanma are enjoyed well into the future by mitigating food waste and making use of what we catch. It’s proven that attachment to a single species causes depletes populations.


Are fish numbers going down in lakes and rivers as well?

They are. It depends on the size of the body of water, but statistically, far more freshwater fish are on the verge of extinction than their saltwater cousins. One example, a togeuo species, is the minamitomiyo, little guys about 5 cm long who used to live at springs in Hyogo and Kyoto Prefectures, until they went extinct in the 1960s. Once a species of fish living in a smaller area begins to dwindle, we need to act quick to avoid extinction. We talk about having 4,000 saltwater species in Japan, but that number can go down. If one goes extinct, like the aogisu that have disappeared from Tokyo and Osaka Bays, it’s not like there’s a big announcement. The ocean deserves our respect. There is so much to SEA!

In your estimation, is more trash winding up in oceans and rivers?

The day after a big storm, or during typhoon season, you SEA tons of trash floating in the water. If you look closely at the trash, you’ll SEA an alarming quantity of plastic, sometimes from overseas. I’ll admit that I did SEA lots of garbage on the beaches and rivers of my youth. One big difference now is that marine debris is recognized as an environmental issue, both throughout Japan and globally. By teaching it in school, we’re helping people SEA the complexities. Once we’re on the same page, all kinds of new solutions and plans start popping up. It’s a virtuous cycle!

There are lots of people who want to help, but aren’t sure what they can do.

The first step is to make a visit to a beach or river and SEA for yourself how fun it can be. Nothing beats a unique natural landscape, fresh air, or the feeling that you get when you SEA a bunch of creatures in their natural habitats. Once people experience firsthand how pleasant, fun, and pleasurable spending time in nature is, they’ll want to prevent further pollution as a matter of course. As crucial as it is to encourage natural preservation, it’s even more important to help people experience nature and become intimately aware of the wonders that we’re trying to protect.

There’s news of plastic straws getting stuck in the nostrils of sea turtles.

That turtle must have been in serious pain. That was too bad. Straws weren’t designed be tossed on the ground. Once you’ve finished a delicious drink, express your gratitude by disposing of it properly. If we SEA it from another angle, most of the things around were designed to improve daily life. We can treat these objects with respect as well, by acknowledging their role. Gratitude goes a long way.

There’s news of plastic straws getting stuck in the nostrils of sea turtles.

Apparently small fish will consume plastic without realizing.

Just like us, fish get hungry. And when they’re hungry, they’ll confuse plastic trash for something delicious. But since plastic isn’t natural, it risks getting caught in their digestive system. Microplastics, which we define as 5 mm or smaller, cause different problems, since they look a lot like plankton. This can happen to species as big as the whale shark or as tiny as the lancetfish, not to mention waterfowl, sea turtles, dolphins or whales. If they SEA a piece of plastic and swallow it by accident, it gets trapped in their stomachs or intestines. Sadly, we SEA this sort of thing a lot.


What are your ambitions as a member of the Spo-Gomi leadership?

Thanks so much for everyone's support, including nature and the fish! I'm full of gratitude! Hope to SEA you down at the water!