Japan is being taken to task in regard to the protection of stocks of Pacific bluefin tuna, a popular fish used in high-grade sushi. Japan is the world’s biggest fisher and consumer of bluefin tuna, and it has been discovered that Japan has engaged in operations that violate regulations. It is inevitable that Western countries will take an even harsher stance as they seek to step up protection of the fish.
In December 2016, it was found that young bluefin tuna were being fished in Nagasaki and Mie Prefectures in violation of regulations. It is thought that these illegal fishing operations in the two prefectures harvested more than 90 tons of bluefin tuna. This corresponds to over 2% of Japan’s 4,007 ton annual limit for catch of immature bluefin tuna.
International community is striving to limit bluefin tuna fishing
In Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture, a major site for bluefin tuna fishing, 16 fishing boats that had not obtained the required fishing approval caught about 12 tons of bluefin tuna over a three-month period. The Kamitsushimamachi Fishermen’s Cooperative Association in Tsushima City apparently had an unusually abundant catch. Senior leaders of the association said, “We are reflecting on how we fished, but when fishermen find fish they want to take them.” The Fisheries Agency has launched an investigation to see if there are other similar cases in Japan.
Environmental groups among others claim that bluefin tuna spawning stocks are now 2.6% of unfished levels due to overfishing. In 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) moved Pacific Bluefin into the “vulnerable” category [on its red list]. In accordance with the international community’s agreement to limit the catch of this tuna, Japan had just finished setting caps on catch for each prefecture and instituting countermeasures, such as requiring approval for fishing [when the illegal fishing operations were discovered]. Senior officials at the Fisheries Agency are at their wits’ end thinking that “Japan’s credibility will decline.”
The international community is already taking an increasingly harsh view of Japan. In early December 2016 before the discovery of the illegal fishing operations, criticism was repeatedly leveled at Japan at the annual meeting, held in Fiji, of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which discusses the management of Pacific bluefin tuna stocks.
“Not legally binding”
“Japan’s measures are soft even though stocks are low. Japan should take more stringent measures,” said the representative of the European Union (EU). This statement was met with agreement from New Zealand and South Pacific island nations among others. The Japanese government’s claim that its fishing regulations are “sufficient as they stand” was drowned out.
At the annual meeting, the parties agreed “to restore Pacific bluefin spawning stock by 2034 at the latest to 20% of what it would be without fishing. To reach this goal will require prohibiting fishing in effect.
Japan insisted that the wording in the agreement be weakened from “decide” to “request,” and the parties agreed in the end on “request.” Because the agreement is not legally binding, the Fisheries Agency is taking a passive stance on the matter, saying “We will consider it, but execution is a separate matter.”
The Agency aims to restore bluefin tuna stocks through loose fishing regulations, while limiting the impact on people’s diets and on the economic activities of the domestic fishing industry and distributors. Japan also has illegal fishing operations, so it has become harder for it to gain the international community’s understanding. More and more people are calling for Japan to implement strict fishing regulations through legislation as is done in the case of saury and mackerel.