Big changes underway in Japan, according to fisheries report

Published on
June 1, 2016

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has submitted its annual White Paper on Fisheries to the legislature for approval. Although the English version has yet to be released, the Japanese version is available and gives an eye-opening summary of the trends affecting the fishery in 2015 and provides a glimpse into what Japan’s policy for 2016 and beyond will look like.

The report reviews the rapid post-war growth of Japan’s fishing industry due to adoption of motorized vessels and new technologies. However, since the 1970s, the rising cost of oil and the imposition of 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs), as well declining prices for marine products, have generally put the Japanese distant water fleet fishing industry into decline, with resulting fleet reductions and tougher times for the country’s many fishing villages.

Japan is also coping with a decline in domestic seafood consumption, following a peak in 2001. In response, the Fisheries Agency is targeting one of the most positive aspects of the report: the rise of gourmet, or “foodie,” tourism. The report noted a sharp increase in tourism following the easing of visa requirements for visitors from many Asian countries, including China. Subsequently, the number of tourists visiting Japan has doubled from 2012 to 2015, reaching around 2 million total visitors last year.

In a survey, 26 percent of tourists said the part of their visit they were most looking forward to was eating Japanese food, with 34 percent specifying sushi and fish dishes. To respond to that demand, the agency is encouraging regional branding of local specialties, including a three-year-old promotional program called “Pridefish,” which highlights one seafood specialty from each prefecture each season. The program also provides information on seasonal fish that is lacking since small fish shops have largely been replaced by supermarkets.

The report also notes changes in the role and financial capacity of local fishery cooperatives. A new government initiative is promoting private fishing, trading and aquaculture companies, but they are required by law to forge capital tie-ups with the cooperatives. This is a contentious issue in coastal villages, as it is sometimes seen as a precursor to privatizing and handing over local access rights to large corporations. On the other hand, it will infuse needed capital into local ventures and create jobs.

Also noted in the white paper is the greater emphasis Japan is putting into conservation efforts within its own EEZ. The total allowable catch (TAC) system began in Japan in 1998 for six target species: saury, Alaska pollock, sardines, mackerel, Southern mackerel, horse mackerel, squid and snow crab. That’s a small amount, but in place of TACs, Japan mostly employs total allowable effort, which restricts the number of boats and men allowed to fish for a certain species. The country is experimenting with an individual quota system for purse seine mackerel in North Pacific Ocean through a pilot project.

The white paper also noted the graying population of Japan’s fishermen, with their average age now above 60 years old. The paper said that while younger fishers are joining the industry, by and large, they are most interested in aquaculture because it is a growing sector, it’s considered safer and they don’t have to cope with long family separations. The report also notes the growing role of women in the fishing industry, as labor-saving mechanization of the set-net fishery is allowing them to do jobs previously prohibitive to them due to their physical difficulty.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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