Violations of soft bluefin tuna cap may lead to TAC limit

Japan’s Fishery Agency is likely to set a total allowable catch (TAC) for bluefin tuna, after a survey found problems with the current voluntary cap.

In January 2015, to show it was not ignoring bluefin tuna overfishing, the Japan Fisheries Agency (JFA), introduced voluntary limits on bluefin harvests in domestic waters. A system of alerts was included an “advisory” when catches hit 70 percent of the limit, an “alert” at 80 percent, a “special alert” at 90 percent, and a request for voluntary suspension of fishing at 95 percent.

In July 2016, JFA further changed its system. Previously, there were six bluefin management blocs – northern and western Sea of Japan, northern and southern Pacific Ocean, the Seto Inland Sea and the sea west of Kyushu – each with its own voluntary catch limit. In the new system, quotas were set by prefecture, with the warnings issued on a prefectural basis.

However, a December 2016 survey showed violations in Mie and Nagasaki prefectures. A follow-up survey released by the agency on 3 February, 2017, showed violations in eight prefectures. For example, in Shizuoka Prefecture, four fishermen caught 1.5 metric tons (MT) of bluefin without the proper permits, and Kumamoto-based fishermen didn’t report they had caught 4.2 MT in other prefectures.

As a result, JFA will set a firm total allowable catch (TAC) on bluefin tuna catches under the Act on Preservation and Control of Living Marine Resources, rather than the current voluntary limit, as early as fiscal 2017 (1 April through 31 March) and impose penalties for overfishing, the Mainichi Shimbun reported on 4 February.

Japan manages most species using a total allowable effort (TAE) system, such as by regulating gear, locations and seasons, rather than by TAC. TAC is currently applied only to Pacific saury, Alaska pollock, horse mackerel, sardines, mackerel, Japanese squid and snow crab.

Japan does not want to give an impression of lax bluefin management, as its voluntary measures were meant to relieve pressure for listing the Pacific bluefin tuna under the CITES agreement on trade in endangered species.


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