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Fisheries Agency reveals flexible proposal on bluefin tuna quotas in Pacific

Bluefin tuna are lined up at Sakai Port in Tottori Prefecture, on June 12, 2017. (Mainichi)

As part of its new proposal on bluefin tuna fishing quotas in the North Pacific, Japan's Fisheries Agency revealed on Aug. 1 that it wants to reduce quotas only if it becomes unlikely that parent bluefin tuna stocks will go back to adequate levels.

    Furthermore, the agency stated that it wants to increase quotas as soon as it seems likely that the restoration of stock targets can be achieved.

    The agency will officially present its proposal at the 13th Regular Session of the Northern Committee that will be held in Busan, South Korea, from Aug. 28. However, with the United States and Taiwan opposing Japan's proposal at the corresponding conference in 2016, the main question is whether the agency will be able to gain consensus this time.

    The international conference in Busan will be held under the umbrella of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). With stocks of parent bluefin tuna (i.e. weighing 30 kilograms or more) in the Pacific plummeting from a peak of 160,000 metric tons in 1961 to 16,000 tons in 2014, and staying low, the WCPFC is aiming to increase stocks of parent bluefin tuna up to 41,000 tons by 2024.

    Under the Fisheries Agency's proposal, if the likelihood of achieving this target becomes 60 percent or lower, the current quota would be reduced as an emergency measure. However, if the probability rises to 65 percent or higher, the agency wants to see an increase in the quota. It also aims to raise stocks of parent bluefin tuna up to 130,000 tons by 2034.

    At the conference in 2016, the agency proposed the introduction of urgent regulations in the event of stocks of bluefin tuna younger than 1 year continuing to remain at record-low levels for three years in a row. However, the agency's proposal was met with strong opposition from both the U.S., which wants strict controls, and Taiwan, which wants to secure fishing quotas.

    Therefore, this time, the Fisheries Agency has apparently decided to put together a more flexible proposal to increase the likelihood of gaining consensus from both the U.S. and Taiwan.

    Under the current WCPFC regulations -- that have been in place since 2015 -- the annual quotas are: Half the average between 2002 and 2004 for young bluefin tuna (i.e. bluefin tuna lighter than 30 kilograms) and less than the average for the same period for parent bluefin tuna.

    However, in its proposal this year, Japan is not looking to specifically increase or decrease quotas. Instead, the Fisheries Agency is looking for consensus regarding regulatory framework as a first step.

    Speaking on the matter, a senior official from the agency warned, "If we fail to gain consensus again this year, the situation concerning stocks will become undesirable."

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