Japan fisheries face heat waves, poachers, export restrictions

There are 52 commercial fish species in waters surrounding Japan, managed as 84 stocks. Of these, the resource levels of 12 (14 percent) were high, those of 36 (43 percent) were medium, and those of 36 were low. The Pacific Ocean mackerel fishery and the Tsushima Current sardine fishery, both of which had low resource levels in 2012, recovered to the medium level in 2013.

Japan manages most species using a Total Allowable Effort (TAE) system, in which the number, size and period of operation of fishing boats, and the types of gear allowed are regulated. In comparison with other countries, Japan has set a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for only a few species: saury, Alaska pollock, sardines, mackerel, Southern mackerel, horse mackerel, squid and snow crab.

Japan faces a challenge in preventing foreign vessels from poaching in Japanese waters. Illegal fishers often set nets without buoys to avoid detection, which then entangle the gear of Japanese fishing vessels. They also use high-performance radar to detect approaching Japanese Coast Guard vessels. While the number of inspections has increased, seizures of gear have declined, indicating that it is becoming harder to catch poachers in the act. Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese vessels are most often involved.

In recent years, extreme weather such as local heavy rains and abnormally high summer temperatures has increased. The average temperature in West Japan from June to August 2013 was the highest ever recorded, and seawater temperatures were the highest since 1985.

This has caused fish preferring warmer waters, such as Spanish mackerel, to migrate north. Bluefin tuna and yellowtail are increasingly seen in Hokkaido. Meanwhile, fish that prefer cold water, such as saury, have delayed their fall migration to Japanese waters, resulting in a shorter season.

Torrential rains have caused strong flows of muddy river water into aquaculture areas. Oyster production is also suffering, as the warmer weather causes oysters to prolong their spawning season rather than putting energy into fattening for the winter.

Two important issues for the viability of the capture fishery are high fuel costs and lack of successors. The government has been promoting energy-efficiency for fishing vessels to cut fuel costs, including defouling hulls, converting from 2-stroke to 4-stroke outboard motors, and using LED lights for squid jigging. The recruitment of young people to the fishing business continues to lag with the average age still increasing (37 percent are over age 65). Dangerous conditions and long separations make distant fisheries unattractive for workers. Aquaculture gets the most interest from young job seekers.

Top suppliers of some major import species were: Shrimp: Vietnam (19 percent), Indonesia (18 percent), India (15 percent); tuna: Taiwan (19 percent), South Korea (13 percent), China (9 percent); squid: China (33 percent), Thailand (23 percent), Vietnam (11 percent) fishmeal: Peru (32 percent), Ecuador (16 percent) and Chile (15 percent). In salmon and trout, the U.S. held a mere 2 percent share, while Chile held 60 percent, Norway 21 percent, and Russia 13 percent. The U.S. and Russia sold mainly sockeye and pink salmon, Norway sold Atlantic salmon, and Chile sold silver salmon and trout.

To promote exports, many Japanese processors have acquired safety-related certifications, such as HACCP or EU HACCP. Eco-labels for the domestic market, such as Marine Stewardship Council or the domestic Marine Eco-Label have only slowly been gaining market recognition among domestic consumers, though the Fisheries Agency expects momentum to grow.

Effects from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami continue. A goal of completing restoration and reconstruction during 2013 was set, but local shortages of construction materials and labor have caused delays.

Disseminating clear information about radiation leaks from the Fukushima reactor, as well as about the system of checks for securing for food safety, is very important for gaining consumer acceptance of Japanese seafood abroad. Many countries have restricted imports of Japanese seafood.

South Korea banned seafood importations from eight Japanese prefectures noting a lack of timely and accurate information from Japan, and has refused to lift the ban due to continuing concerns of consumers. Japan is appealing this matter to the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee of the World Trade Organization, since import bans should be based on scientific evidence rather than consumer sentiment.


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