The North Pacific Fisheries Commission, whose six members include Japan, China and South Korea, has reached an agreement on a recommendation not to increase the number of mackerel vessels on the high seas in the northern Pacific Ocean.
It is the first international agreement on the protection of mackerel resources. Controlling the number of fishing boats was left to voluntary efforts of each country and region. The Japanese government considers the agreement to be equivalent to “standing at the minimum starting line”. Ensuring that the decision will be effective is a challenge.
The domestic catch of mackerel exceeded 1.6 million tonnes in 1978, but dramatically decreased to 250,000 tonnes in 1991. After that, the mackerel catch was restricted with the aim of protecting stocks. Currently, the fish haul remains at about 500,000 tonnes a year, mainly in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The number of Chinese mackerel boats operating in international waters adjacent to the EEZ is rapidly increasing. This number increased from 20 in 2014 to at least 80 in 2015, based on reports. The 2015 fish haul increased five times to more than 130,000 tonnes compared with that of the previous year.
At the commission meeting held in Tokyo this time, Japan urged the other members to make it mandatory to limit the number of fishing vessels out of a sense of urgency that if the number of Chinese boats continues to increase at its recent rate, the fishery resources could be depleted again.
However, China rejected Japan’s request, saying that the restriction should not be strengthened because it is unclear if the quantity of the resources is decreasing. In the end, the meeting did not adopt a mandatory restriction.
To have China recognise the significance of the restriction, it is important for Japan to play a central role in swiftly proceeding with a fact-finding survey on the volume of stocks, which the participants in the meeting agreed to conduct, and provide scientific data.
Against the background of diversifying dietary behaviours and the development of fisheries in China and other countries, there is a growing threat to the sustainability of fishery resources consumed mainly by Japan.
The commission, launched under the leadership of Japan last year, made it mandatory not to increase the number of sanma saury fishing boats.
Concerning Pacific blue-fin tuna, additional restrictive measures to be taken in case immature fish rapidly decrease are an immediate challenge.
The catch of immature fish has already been restricted. An international conference is being held in Fukuoka to discuss concrete rules on the issue and conditions for implementing restrictions.
Japan, as a major fishery country, has the responsibility to conduct sustainable fishing by taking such actions as first determining the volume of stocks and then protecting against over-fishing of immature fish. It is vital to maintain a balance between the protection of various resources and the promotion of fisheries.
Large-scale fishing methods, such as trawling and long-line fishing, which collaterally catch species on top of the targeted ones, also are considered problematic. We hope Japan will take a leading role in changing these fishing methods to ones that will minimise the adverse influence on the ecosystem.