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Fisheries Agency to get tough on small bluefin tuna fishing quotas

Freshly caught bluefin tuna are seen at Sakai Port, in Tottori Prefecture, on June 12, 2017. (Mainichi)

The Fisheries Agency is set to crack down on fishing of bluefin tuna weighing under 30 kilograms in the Pacific Ocean from July onward in tandem with international fishing regulations, it has emerged.

Specifically, if the catch of small bluefin tuna during the current fishing season (July 2017 to June 2018) exceeds the agency's allocated annual quota, the surplus amount will then be subtracted from next season's quota.

As a result, it looks like the 2018 to 2019 quotas for both Hokkaido and Kagoshima prefectures will in effect end up being zero, as these prefectures have already massively exceeded their limits for the current fishing season.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which oversees management of bluefin tuna in the aforementioned region, has set Japan's annual quota for bluefin tuna lighter than 30 kilograms at 4,007 metric tons. However, the Fisheries Agency has set a lower figure of 1,739.2 tons for this season's coastal fishing, in order to comply with international regulations, and has allocated quotas to all 47 Japanese prefectures accordingly.

Yet, as of January 2018, the overall annual quota for small bluefin tuna for coastal fishing for the whole of Japan had already been smashed. Some prefectures had been complying with their targets, but Hokkaido, which had already caught 783.2 tons by this point -- far over its allocation of 111.81 tons -- meant that Japan as a whole exceeded the limit.

On Jan. 23, the Fisheries Agency asked coastal fishing operators across Japan to exercise restraint, and operators across the country, including those who have not exceeded quotas, have stopped small bluefin tuna fishing for the time being.

At a Fisheries Agency expert meeting, which discussed quotas for the next season, points such as, "If the same allocations are made again next season, then the prefectures that didn't go over will feel a sense of unfairness," were raised.

The agency therefore decided to subtract surplus amounts from next season's quotas, which will have a heavy impact on Hokkaido and Kagoshima prefectures. Bare minimum quotas will be set, based on the fact that small bluefin tuna can get caught up in fixed nets, but fishing that specifically targets small bluefin tuna will not be possible.

It is also expected that the quotas for Iwate and Kochi prefectures, which have both gone over their allocations by 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively, will be reduced.

Fishing operators that depend heavily on bluefin tuna will take a hit from these kinds of measures, but the government plans to provide support through a backup system.

"In the long run, this will be beneficial for the fishing operators. We want to press ahead with the appropriate management of resources, while gaining the understanding of fishing operators," a Hokkaido Fisheries Department official said.

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