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Saury fishing season opens in Japan amid fears of very poor haul

Saury are unloaded for the first time this season at Kesennuma Port in the city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 27, 2019. (Mainichi/Atsushi Arai)

The saury fishing season has opened in Japan with only small catches reported so far, and the Fisheries Agency is predicting poor results on the same level as in 2017, when the catch was the lowest since 1969.

At Hanasaki Port in the city of Nemuro in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, where the largest amount of saury has been unloaded for nine consecutive years in Japan, five mid-sized ships landed a total of 17 metric tons of the fish on Aug. 22 following their first outing of the season. The amount is nearly 90% smaller than that of last year.

Subsequently, 43 large ships brought their first catches to the port on Aug. 26 and landed about 500 tons, smaller than last year's 637 tons for the same first outing. According to the anglers, it was difficult to find schools of saury in Japanese coastal waters, their main fishing grounds. Most of the large ships caught the fish in international waters about 1,200 kilometers away from the coast of eastern Hokkaido.

On Aug. 27, a fishing boat unloaded for the first time this season at Kesennuma Port in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Kesennuma, where the third largest amount of saury was landed in Japan last year. The ship brought back about 8 tons of the fish caught on Aug. 23 in open waters about 1,000 kilometers east of Hokkaido.

Kenji Hamamatsu, 43, a crew member of the ship that arrived in Kesennuma in northeastern Japan, said, "The schools of fish are far away (from Japan) and their volume is small compared with an average year. I'm worried about the small number of fish. We don't know what we're going to do after this."

The total amount of saury caught in Japan was about 220,000 tons in 2014 but the figure sharply dropped to some 120,000 tons in 2018. In contrast, hauls by Taiwanese and Chinese ships that operate in international waters in the North Pacific have greatly increased in recent years.

As for the reason behind the poor catch in Japan, the Fisheries Agency claims that "China and Taiwan snatch the saury before they can migrate to the seas near Japan."

The Japanese government proposed setting saury fishing quotas at an annual meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission, consisting of eight nations and regions including China and Taiwan, and obtained unanimous approval from members on July 18 on an annual limit of about 550,000 tons.

(Japanese original by Hiroaki Honma, Nemuro Local Bureau, Atsushi Arai, Kesennuma Local Bureau, and Shuichi Kanzaki and Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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