Japan keeps an eye on shifting bluefin quotas

At the 11th session of the Western & Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which concluded in Apia, Samoa on Friday, 5 December, Pacific fishing nations agreed to catch limits for Pacific bluefin tuna. The new quota was set at the baseline 2002-2004 annual average level.

Additionally, in line with a decision at a WCPFC subcommittee meeting on 3 September in Fukuoka, Japan, catches of bluefin weighing less than 30 kilograms (kg) will be halved from the baseline 2002-2004 average, beginning in 2015. If the new catch limit is exceeded, the overage will be subtracted from the following year’s limit. Pacific bluefin tuna numbers have fallen to 4 percent of historic levels, say leading conservation organizations, with a severe lack of breeding age individuals. Bluefin breed beginning at age 3 but few reach that age due to overfishing. The 2014 catch for juveniles had already been reduced by 15 percent from the baseline, so the new rule represents an additional 35 percent reduction for next year.

However, the final day of the session in Apia was closed to press, foreshadowing a less than favorable outcome on at least some issues. The Philippines and Korea resisted changes to the conservation regime for bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna. Distant Fishing Water Nations China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan resisted requirements to submit catch data to commission scientists, and efforts by Pacific Island nations to limit the use of fish aggregation devices (FADs) in international waters were unsuccessful. It is thought that the Pacific nations may deny fishing access in their exclusive economic zones to countries that do not agree to these terms.

Regarding the Eastern Pacific, similar reductions in bluefin quota were also accepted in October by the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). In that agreement, no more than half of the harvested bluefin may be juveniles.

Meanwhile, on 17 November, the Pacific bluefin was red-listed in the “vulnerable” category in the three level scale (the other levels are “endangered” and “critically endangered”) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), based in Gland, Switzerland. Red-listing in itself has no legal effect, but because its determinations use a transparent process and are non-political, the list is widely recognized as being based on sound science. Listed species are often considered for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, also known as the Washington Convention).

Among those concerned about declining stocks of Pacific bluefin tuna are Sushi chef Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat sushi bar in downtown Tokyo where President Obama ate with Prime Minister Abe during a visit. Ono also appeared in the 2011 documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

At the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on 4 November, Ono said, “I told my young men three years ago that sushi materials would totally change in five years, and now, such a trend is becoming a reality little by little. I can’t imagine at all that sushi in the future will be made of the same materials we use today.” He referred in particular to a shortage of domestic bluefin tuna, which has led suppliers to source Atlantic bluefin instead.

Contrary to the conservative quotas adopted in the Pacific, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) on 17 November concluded a special meeting in Genoa, Italy by increasing the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing quota, citing a recovery there. Atlantic and Mediterranean fishing nations agreed to increase the quota nearly 20 percent per year for the next three years. Fishing for the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock was also increased.

When ICCAT decided to restrict fishing quotas for tuna in the Mediterranean from 2007, it led to a boom of tuna farming in Japan. This may have in turn led to overharvesting of juveniles around Japan to stock pens. In 2008, many trading companies and major fisheries companies were licensed or granted expansion. According to the Fisheries Agency, there are 137 bluefin tuna preserves in 14 prefectures, which produce 9,000 metric tons a year, but in 2013 the Fisheries Agency instructed prefectures, which license fish farms, not to permit any further expansion.


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