We are eating more fish than ever nowadays. According the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s report in 2018, the annual global growth in fish consumption has been twice as high as population growth since 1961.
How are the major players of the seafood industry dealing with the issues of sustainability? A very proactive company is Hana Group, one of the largest prepared seafood providers in the world. The company operates over 300 eateries nationwide and over 900 outlets globally under multiple brands, including 270 directly owned sushi restaurants that only serve sustainable sushi at a major natural/organic supermarket chain.
Under the leadership of president and CEO Josh Onishi, Hana Group North America became the first sushi company to achieve ISO 14001: 2015 Certification, which is a voluntary international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system.
“They say it would take three years to have the certification, but it took us only a year and half, because we have a full-time environmental specialist”, says Onishi. For the company with the size of 1,500 employees in North America and 4,000 in total worldwide, it is unusual to have the non-mandatory specialist. “Since the founding of our company in 1997, we believed that we had to take action now to preserve seafood, otherwise our business would not last so long.”
At Hana Group all the purchase decisions, including seafood, product packaging and even daily use office and production supplies, are verified by the environmental specialist. For example, there are no disposable cups or utensils in use at the facility. Onishi says, “The commitment goes beyond sustainable seafood sourcing. Our distribution trucks are certified under the strict California standard, even though we don’t distribute in California. We did so, because we thought it was the right thing to do.” He is certain that the corporate culture is the core drive to maintain the sustainability practice. “Without the mindset, you would think of cheating here and there, because you are told to be sustainable and foregoing profit-making opportunities.”
His company only uses sustainable seafood that is verified by the Seafood Watch program by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a well-recognized guide for sustainable seafood. The company only uses fish that is categorized within “Best Choice”, “Good Alternative“ by the guide, or equivalent third-party certified items, but never those in the red-flagged “Avoid” list. But Onishi believes that protecting the existing species is not enough. “It is crucial to change the perception of the entire community about sustainability. So we use our influence to inform and educate our customers, employees and vendors through signage, social media, events and our website.” Onishi is also active as an advocate of seafood sustainability and discuss the issue at various speaking events and social media.
These are all wonderful. But how about the cost of being sustainable? “If there are supply shortages, our costs will increase. In order to protect a long-term financial health, sustainable seafood is the smart bet. Luckily, the whole society now started to back up the necessity for sustainability including the millennials who would face serious consequences of not taking actions right now. Soon sustainability will become a norm”, says Onishi. “It’s always better to be a leader than to be forced to comply out of necessity. This movement has already started. It’s time to join us.”