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Fishermen protest tightening of bluefin tuna fishing quotas

Angry fishermen gather in front of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in central Tokyo to protest new restrictions on bluefin tuna fishing on June 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Frustration is simmering among Japanese fishermen and industry officials against an upcoming restriction on bluefin tuna fishing to be implemented starting July 1. They argue that the stock of the popular fish used for sushi and in other Japanese cuisine is improving and the restriction is a unilateral action that threatens their livelihoods.

As many as 500 fishermen and their supporters from across Japan marched from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to the Diet in central Tokyo on June 25, protesting the new rule. Prior to the demonstration, some coastal fishermen and others met with agricultural minister Ken Saito and requested that the quota for bluefin tuna be expanded as the current level is too low for them to survive.

Besides their request to ease the quota, the representatives from a national association of coastal fishermen asked Saito to increase compensation paid to them for following the government request to refrain from catching smaller bluefin tuna weighing less than 30 kilograms that was introduced in January. The measure was precautionary as the Fisheries Agency feared that the fishermen would soon exceed the cap on the catch of this smaller category of bluefin tuna.

The quotas are set under an international agreement. Japan is allowed to fish as much as 8,889 tons a year. As for the smaller category, the agency introduced prefectural quotas from July 2016 and is carefully monitoring catches so that the limits are kept. Moreover, for the bigger category of bluefin tuna, fishermen will be required to follow prefectural quotas starting July, which has angered them as they deem the figures presented by the Fisheries Agency in May are unacceptable.

Another belt-tightening measure to be introduced by the agency in the same month also worries fishermen. The agency revised relevant rules in April so that it will be able to order the suspension of bluefin tuna fishing when actual catches go beyond certain levels but are still under quotas. Violators face punishment of up to three years' imprisonment or up to a 2 million yen fine.

Yukihiko Takamatsu, a 62-year-old resident of the town of Haboro in the northernmost main island of Hokkaido who headed the organizing committee of the demonstration, is particularly worried. "I want the government to review the quota as soon as possible," he said. "Otherwise, coastal fishermen could shut down their fishing operations one after another."

Japan failed to keep the country's quota in the fishing year ending June last year. This fishing year faces a similar situation, with many prefectures' catches approaching their quotas. Fishermen in some prefectures have become frustrated because they were forced to suspend their bluefin tuna fishing operations after their counterparts in prefectures such as Hokkaido or Akita in northeastern Japan caught more fish than permitted.

(Japanese original by Akiko Kato, Business News Department)

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