Monitor saury catches to ensure international agreements are kept

Poor hauls of sanma saury, which is called the “flavor of the people,” are becoming increasingly serious. It is important for the economies concerned to abide by international agreements and prevent overfishing, and they are finally getting on the same page in this regard.

The North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC), which consists of eight economies including Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan, held its annual meeting and agreed to reduce the catch quota for saury by 40% from the current 556,250 tons to 333,750 tons.

The quota will consists of 198,000 tons in the high seas, where fishing can be done freely, and 135,750 tons in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Japan and Russia, and will be applied for two years starting this year.

Japan has been calling for fishing restrictions since 2017. China, Taiwan and other economies, which were initially cautious about restrictions, compromised and agreed to set a quota for the first time in 2019. The government says that this time as well it has been able to share a sense of crisis over the lower hauls, which can be called a step forward.

However, the total catch of saury has decreased from about 440,000 tons in 2018 to about 190,000 tons in 2019. The quota of about 330,000 tons is much larger than the actual take, and is not sufficient for reducing hauls.

Japan’s proposal to allocate fishing quotas to each economy was also put off. This raises questions about the effectiveness of the resource protection measures.

Instead of allocating quotas to each of them, the economies agreed at the meeting that they should not exceed 60% of their actual catch in 2018.

A self-reporting system is used for amount of the catches. To ensure the implementation of the agreement, they plan to establish a framework for mutual inspections through such means as satellite monitoring systems, which must be installed on fishing vessels operating on the high seas. This framework must strictly be enforced.

Japan’s saury catch stayed in the 200,000- to 300,000-ton range in the 2000s but has fallen sharply in recent years, with data showing that the landings in 2020 fell below 30,000 tons.

Wholesale prices have soared to an average of nearly ¥500 per kilogram in 2020, making saury less likely to reach people’s tables.

There are many theories as to why Japan’s catch is so low. Some say China and Taiwan are “preemptively” catching saury as they migrate northward from summer to autumn in the high seas of the Pacific Ocean, before moving south to enter Japan’s EEZ.

In contrast, some believe that rising sea temperatures caused by global warming have prevented saury, which prefer cold water, from coming to the waters around Japan.

It is important for Japan to take the initiative in conducting scientific research in cooperation with other economies to accurately determine changes in the amount of saury resources and the actual state of migration. Appropriate regulations must be implemented based on the findings.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March. 7, 2021.