Japan Tuna Quota Halved for the Next Five Years
Author: Elaine Lies
A huge global appetite for fish, in which Japan's voracious demand plays a key role, has led to widespread overfishing and pushed many high-value species, including some species of bluefin tuna, close to the brink of extinction.
In 2005, Japan exceeded its 6,065 tonne quota of southern bluefin tuna by 1,500 tonnes, which a Fisheries Agency official said had helped contribute to the decision that cut Tokyo's quota to 3,000 tonnes for five years from 2007.
"There is also a possibility that Japan may have overfished a bit in other years besides 2005 as well," the official added, citing surveys by fishing experts.
"Therefore we had no choice but to accept the decision."
According to the United Nations, more than 70 percent of the world's commercially important fish stocks are either over-exploited, depleted, slowly recovering or close to the maximum sustainable level of exploitation.
Quotas for each season's southern bluefin tuna fishing are allotted by the Commission for Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, which comprises Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea.
A meeting of the group, which also included representatives from the European Union, ended in southwestern Japan on Friday with the decision to cut the overall seasonal quota for 2007 to 11,530 tonnes from 14,030 tonnes in 2006 out of concern about overfishing.
Australia's quota was unchanged at 5,265 tonnes while South Korea and Taiwan saw their quotas fall a bit to 1,000 tonnes.
The Fisheries Agency official blamed Japan's previous overfishing mainly on sloppy record-keeping, adding that fishing rules were toughened earlier this year to combat the practice.
Up until this year, Japanese ships sent in periodic reports on their catches to the Fisheries Agency, which declared the season over when the quota was met.
Under the new rules, which took effect in April, each fishing company was allotted a specific quota and will be required to tag each fish showing when and where it was caught.
Ships are also permitted to unload their catch only at specific harbours, with violations punished by forbidding ships from leaving harbour, up to two years' prison and a fine.
It is still too early to say how much Japan has fished this year, the official said, adding that Japan voluntarily cut its quota from 6,065 tonnes to 4,500 tonnes to make up for 2005's overfishing.
The average price of a kilo of frozen southern bluefin at Tokyo's Tsukiji main wholesale fish market is 2,000 yen (US$16.70), the fisheries agency said.
In 2005, about 150,000 tonnes of tuna was consumed by Japanese households, but the official said it was hard to say if tighter quotas would have an impact on consumers.
"That's because most of the natural bluefin tuna taken by Japanese ships is so expensive that it's not the stuff you see in your local supermarket," he added.