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Japanese Marine Resource Management and Depletion of Pacific Bluefin Tuna and Japanese Eel Stocks

post date : 2017.10.01

These articles present editorials from leading Japanese newspapers (Asahi, Sankei, Nikkei, Mainichi, Yomiuri) covering the same theme.


The Asahi Shimbun: Hurry with concrete measures to strengthen marine resource management
The Sankei Shimbun: Take leadership in measures with long-term perspective for Pacific bluefin tuna
The Nikkei: Complacency is unacceptable for Pacific bluefin tuna management
The Mainichi Shimbun: Japanese eel crisis—transparency of distribution channels necessary
The Yomiuri Shimbun: Conservation of fishery resources—clean up act and work towards international cooperation


Japan, with its large fishing industry, has been facing criticism from the international community regarding conservation of marine resources. Japan is the world’s largest consumer of Pacific bluefin tuna, popular for sushi and sashimi, and the size of catches had greatly decreased due to reasons including overfishing by Japanese fishing boats. At the meeting of the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) held in Busan, South Korea from August 28 to September 1, 2017, Pacific bluefin tuna stocks were estimated to have declined drastically to 2.6% of historic pre-fishing levels (estimate of stock size before commercial fishing), and significant pressure was placed on Japan to implement new resource management targets and improve existing fishing methods.


At the same time, with the rapid increase in the number of Chinese and Taiwanese fishing boats in international waters near Japan, Japan’s total catch has decreased to approximately one third of its peak. Due to illegal fishing and underreporting catches, international management of juvenile Japanese eel stocks is not properly functioning. There are also issues with distribution channels within Japan, which lack transparency in many areas.


From July through September, all five national papers have run editorials about the issues with Pacific bluefin tuna and Japanese eel from the perspective of marine resource conservation. The dailies call for Japan to take leadership in implementing measures and international cooperation, in order to avoid Japan being the target of international criticism as a country with a large fishing industry, and called for reforms to Japan’s government administration of the fishing industry.


■ Calls for Japan to Take a Stance on Pacific Bluefin Tuna Management


The Sankei (August 22) noted concern over the depletion of stocks of Pacific bluefin tuna, the top of the food chain in the Pacific Ocean: “Having declined to 2.6% of historic levels, the current situation calls for a fishing ban.” The paper stated, “Stricter management is obviously necessary. To ensure its viability, Japan’s stance as a major fishing nation will be important…. It is not surprising that the Japan Fisheries Agency has been criticized for lacking a sense of crisis.”


In particular, regarding the WCPFC’s call to limit catches of juvenile tuna that weigh less than 30 kilograms, Japan was harshly criticized by the international community for exceeding this limit. The Sankei noted reasons included Japan’s system of separating quotas by region which led to competition to bring in catches quickly, and loose regulations for purse seine net fishing, and called for Japan to introduce individual fishing quotas such as are used in countries with advanced fishing industries, arguing, “The time has come to implement radical reforms to fishing industry regulations in order to protect resources.”


The Nikkei (September 3), noting that Japan accounted for 60% of Pacific bluefin tuna caught and consumed 80% of the worldwide catch, declared, “The government and members of the fishing industry must face reality, and take a position of leadership internationally for measures to prevent overfishing.” The WCPFC reached an agreement to increase the stock of mature Pacific bluefin tuna to 130,000 tons by 2034. Regarding Japan’s proposed method of changing fishing quotas based on observations of the pace of stock recovery, due to requests from the U.S. and other nations strict conditions were put in place for increasing fishing quotas. The Nikkei also commented on how Japan repeatedly failed to comply with regulations on Pacific bluefin tuna fishing, and exceeded catch limits which constituted an international pledge, calling for improvement: “The complacent attitude that ‘exceeding the limit by a small amount can’t be helped’ is no longer acceptable.”


The Yomiuri (August 20) also stated, “If Japan does not follow the rules for resource protection itself, it will not be at all convincing when calling for international cooperation,” and called for increased cooperation between the national government, local governments, and fishing cooperatives to create an enforceable system. The paper also noted that with the rapid increase in the number of Chinese and Taiwanese fishing boats in international waters near Japan, Japan’s total catch has decreased to approximately one third of its peak. The paper suggested creating regional fisheries management organizations with neighboring countries, and working with those countries to establish rules based on scientific data.


The Asahi (August 16) noted that the stocks of about half of 50 kinds of fish around Japan are at low levels compared to past numbers, and argued, “The fishing industry as a whole is at risk of decline. While taking advantage of voluntary efforts, official controls should be strengthened as soon as possible.” Using Pacific bluefin tuna as an example of how measures implemented by Japan are just playing catch-up, the paper argued that in order to avoid a race to catch tuna before the quota is met, serious discussions should begin for implementing individual fishing quotas.


■ Lack of Transparency in Japanese Eel Distribution Channels


The Mainichi (July 31), commenting on Japanese eels, which were added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2014, noted that “it can hardly be said stocks have recovered” compared to when they were added to the list. In response to the frequent illegal fishing of juvenile eels, the paper stated, “International cooperation for resource management is necessary.” Simultaneously, in order to prevent illegal fishing and underreporting of catches, the paper argued, “Ensuring transparency of distribution channels is a critical issue,” and called for creating a system to follow the distribution of juvenile eels including when caught, farming, and sales.


The Mainichi also commented that although Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan, the main producers of Japanese eels, set limits on the maximum amount of juvenile eels to be introduced to farming ponds in 2015, the actual number used was only about half the maximum limit, yet due to the laxness of this limit it had not helped stock levels recover. Furthermore, the paper called this initiative “a gentleman’s agreement which is not legally binding,” and stated that if distribution channels are not made transparent and international cooperation is not improved, “There is the risk that Japanese eels will become covered by the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, threatening the continuation of this aspect of traditional Japanese cuisine.”



*English translations are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.

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