Properly manage Pacific bluefin tuna catches to facilitate stock recovery

Bluefin tuna is an indispensable ingredient in Japan, popular as a premium sushi ingredient and sashimi. It is vital to ensure the recovery of the fish stocks by appropriately managing catches.

At an international conference to discuss the management of bluefin tuna resources in the Pacific Ocean, Japan’s proposal to increase the catch quotas for the fish for 2022 has been partly approved. Six countries and regions, including the United States, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan, reportedly supported the proposal.

The catch quotas for large Pacific bluefin tuna weighing 30 kilograms or more are expected to be increased by 15%. With the 15% increase, Japan’s quotas are expected to rise from 4,882 tons to 5,614 tons per year. On the other hand, the quotas for smaller tuna weighing less than 30 kilograms are expected to remain unchanged at 4,007 tons per year due to concerns about the impact on their growth.

Ultimately, an agreement needs to be reached at an annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to be held later this year by 26 countries and regions, including the European Union, China and island nations such as Vanuatu.

Japan should make efforts to thoroughly explain the recovery of the resources of the fish on which the country’s proposal was based.

The Japanese government has been proposing an increase in bluefin tuna catch quotas since 2018, but the proposal had been rejected for three consecutive years. However, this time, the United States is said to have changed its stance toward approval. The United States is believed to have shown its understanding of the increase in fish stocks.

If the quotas are increased, bluefin tuna, also called “hon maguro” in Japanese meaning “genuine and authentic tuna,” may become more accessible.

However, as fish stocks are still in the process of recovery, it is hoped that catch quotas will be expanded cautiously. The Japanese government must clearly demonstrate its stance to continue making utmost efforts to protect the fish stocks.

The stock of parent fish of Pacific bluefin tuna peaked at about 160,000 tons in 1961, but fell to just over 10,000 tons in 2010.

The prime reason for the drop was overfishing mainly by fishermen from Japan, the largest consumer of Pacific bluefin tuna. Japan has a responsibility to lead the recovery of the resources.

The WCPFC introduced catch quotas in 2015, and stocks returned to just under 30,000 tons in 2018.

The Japanese government explained the reason for the catch quota increase this time, saying that based on estimates by international organizations, even if each country increases their catches, the WCPFC’s mid-term goal of increasing fish stocks to about 40,000 tons by 2024 could be achieved.

However, after the implementation of the WCPFC’s regulations in 2015, Japan’s catch of immature fish exceeded its quota, a situation that drew criticism at an international conference in 2017. Compliance with the rules is a prerequisite to increase catches while protecting resources through international cooperation.

Since then, Japan has strengthened its crackdown on violators by imposing penalties. It is essential to ensure that fishermen are fully aware of the rules and strictly observe catch quotas.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 12, 2021.