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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Japan not complying with world tuna rules

Yomiuri Shimbun

On display at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market: tuna, of which Japanese consume about 600,000 tons annually.

Yomiuri Shimbun

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TOKYO No country may love tuna as much as Japan.

Every year, Japanese consume about 600,000 tons of the fish, more than 25 percent of the world's entire catch.

So when the tuna haul began to decrease drastically worldwide because of indiscriminate fishing, all fingers pointed here.

Tuna resources in the western Atlantic Ocean, one of Japan's major bluefin tuna fishing areas, declined to 5,000 tons in 2001, about one-tenth of the amount about 30 years ago.

According to a Fisheries Agency survey in fiscal 2005, tuna is either "overcaught" or "caught to the limit" all over the world.

Since about the time when the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea came into effect in 1994, controlled tuna fishing has become the international trend.

The convention designates tuna as a "highly migratory fish" and stipulates that nations are obliged to cooperate in managing tuna resources. Under the convention, which Japan ratified in 1996, tuna fishing is controlled in five areas including the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

However, Japan, which traditionally emphasizes "fishing freedom," has not been very active in the international trend to promote fishing control.

This attitude is symbolized by the country's handling of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Convention, which covers almost the entire western Pacific Ocean concerning marine resource preservation.

Throughout 2001 and 2002, Japan boycotted preparatory meetings for the convention over concern that South Pacific countries, which did not conduct remote-water fishing, would dominate the talks and impose restrictions on Japan in the convention's final draft.

The convention came into effect in 2004 without Japan's ratification, and the Western Central Pacific Ocean Fisheries Commission was set up based on the convention.

Japan joined the convention in July 2005 after it ensured that its opinion "had been accepted and the decision-making procedure at the commission had improved."

"At that time, Japan showed both media and nongovernmental organizations the country was unwilling to accept stronger fishing restrictions while continuing to catch a huge amount of tuna all over the world," said Waseda University professor Moritaka Hayashi, former chief of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's Fisheries Department.

Japan also was unwilling to join the U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement, which stipulates various rules concerning fishing of tuna, flounder and other kinds of fish in the open sea.

Currently, Japan is trying to take the lead in the international fishing arena by shifting its policy to fishing control and management.