The Yomiuri ShimbunA total of 300,000 to 400,000 tons of mackerel are believed to have been caught by Chinese fishing vessels on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean near the Japanese exclusive economic zone in 2016, according to an estimate by the Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency based in Yokohama.
However, China reported to the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) that it had caught 143,000 tons of mackerel last year. Thus, China’s actual mackerel catch was likely more than twice the amount it reported to the NPFC.
The Japanese government intends to call on China and other countries to accurately report their fish hauls at an NPFC meeting that starts Thursday.
The agency said it conducted a study in an area of the North Pacific Ocean 200 nautical miles (about 370 kilometers) off the coast stretching from eastern Hokkaido to the Sanriku region. The agency analyzed spots of light using publicly available observation data from a U.S. weather satellite, aware that Chinese fishing boats use powerful fishing lights.
The agency also identified the nationalities of vessels using information from the automatic identification system installed on large fishing boats. It also surveyed the distribution of fish species by seawater temperatures.
Based on the data, the agency found that more than 100 large, 1,000-ton-class Chinese fishing vessels were targeting mackerel in the waters last year.
Taking into account that large Chinese fishing vessels continuously fished on the high seas, and that shuttle vessels transported the fish to China, the agency estimated that 300,000 to 400,000 tons of mackerel were caught by Chinese fishing boats in the waters in 2016.
The North Pacific Ocean surveyed by the agency is good fishing ground, and foreign vessels have rapidly increased there in recent years.
To address the situation, Japan called for China, Taiwan, South Korea and other countries to join in founding the NPFC in 2015. A fishing boat registry system and a fish catch reporting system were launched under the NPFC’s framework.
However, the mackerel catch reported by China to the NPFC was 143,000 tons last year — less than half of the amount estimated by the agency.
The Fisheries Agency said its patrol vessels confirmed a large number of unregistered Chinese fishing boats operating in and around the same area of the North Pacific Ocean last year. Some vessels changed their name between each sighting, while others approached the agency’s vessels in a threatening manner, according to the agency.
The NPFC does not set mackerel catch limits. However, an official of the agency said: “Unless member countries or territories start to accurately report fish catches, estimating increases or decreases in the amount of fish will become impossible. To avoid running out of the marine resource, correct reporting is necessary.”