SAPPORO -- Two Japanese fishing vessels operating in waters around Japan's Northern Territories based on a Japan-Russia agreement were requested to pay a fine by Russian authorities early this month over insufficient documentation, according to people familiar with the incident.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a protest with the Russian government stating that Japan cannot recognize the demand as it is equal to the exercise of Russia's state authority, which Tokyo does not recognized over the waters in question.
The Northern Territories are a group of islands off the coast of the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido that have been under Moscow's control since the end of World War II but are claimed by Tokyo.
Under a 1998 bilateral agreement, Japanese fishing vessels can operate in waters around the Northern Territories inside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claimed by Russia, shelving the question of sovereignty over the waters. The agreement stipulates that it has no bearing on the diplomatic positions of either nation.
However, boarding inspections of Japanese boats by the Russian authorities with no prior notice have increased recently, according to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government. There were 156 such inspections in 2018, and they have become a hindrance to the local fishery.
Due to the uptick in tensions, the foreign ministries of Japan and Russia agreed in November 2018 that Japan would accept Russian border guards' inspections as long as they gave prior notice. Tokyo showed consideration for Russia's position by deeming the boarding inspections as "offshore tours."
Despite this agreement, a Japanese vessel fishing for walleye pollock in waters around Kunashiri Island -- one of the four islands of the Northern Territories -- was temporarily held by Russian border authorities. An individual close to the Japanese government condemned Russia's actions, saying, "We cannot overlook the offences as Japan already made concessions in last November's agreement."
(Japanese original by Ryuko Tadokoro and Chie Yamashita, Hokkaido News Department)