Manage bluefin tuna stocks better to gain future increases to catch quota

Japan, as the largest consumer of bluefin tuna, needs to continue taking the initiative to help the recovery of the stock of the fish essential to Japanese cuisine so that it can be everlastingly enjoyed.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), in which Japan and the United States are among the 26 countries and regions participating, has agreed during its recent annual meeting to increase the bluefin tuna catch quota from 2022. The quota for large bluefin tuna weighing at least 30 kilograms will be raised by 15% from 2021 levels.

This marks the first increase in the catch quota since the WCPFC introduced fishing restrictions for bluefin tuna in 2015.

Japan’s annual quota will increase by 732 tons from 4,882 to 5,614. Due to the possible impact on the future stock, restrictions for smaller bluefin tuna weighing less than 30 kilograms will remain unchanged, leaving Japan’s limit for this size of fish at 4,007 tons a year.

Popular as a high-grade sushi ingredient and sashimi, bluefin tuna is also called hon-maguro in Japan. As farmed bluefin tuna have been widely available domestically, it will be good news for consumers if the quota increase results in a decrease in price for wild-caught bluefin tuna. This international agreement should be welcomed.

The domestic supply of bluefin tuna, including aquaculture and imports, is about 30,000 tons, and the quota increase would account for around 2% of this figure.

The Japanese government has proposed raising the quota since 2018, but its proposals have been shelved for three years in a row, due to opposition mainly from the United States. This year, an agreement on the quota increase was reached after members who usually oppose the move recognized a recovery in the bluefin tuna stock.

Efforts to increase the stock, however, are only halfway there.

The Pacific bluefin tuna stock peaked at about 160,000 tons in 1961 and dropped to just over 10,000 tons in 2010. Overfishing by Japanese fishery operators was said to have been the major factor. The situation prompted the WCPFC to introduce catch quotas for the fish.

An international organization has projected that an interim stock recovery target, which has been set at about 40,000 tons by 2024, will be met. Still, the WCPFC is aiming to recover the stock of the fish to 130,000 tons by 2034.

Japan has been allotted about 80% of the total catch quota for bluefin tuna. Concerns about resource depletion persist among relevant countries. It is natural for Japan to take on the greatest responsibility for achieving the recovery targets.

Japan has gradually tightened its regulations by setting a specific catch quota for each prefecture and for the type of fishing method, as well as imposing penalties on violators. The newly agreed quota increase should be allocated properly, while fishery operators should be urged to abide by the rules.

In order to realize further quota increases, it is inevitable to use regulations to steadily aid the recovery of the bluefin tuna stock. In the meantime, the government is urged to continue providing fishery operators with subsidies and other public relief measures.

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