By Kazumichi Shono and Ryosuke Matsui / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersA crisis is looming in sanma saury fishing as China and South Korea have blocked efforts by Japan to introduce regulations.
Saury is a typical autumn food in Japan. If the current situation is left unattended, continuing poor catches might lead to further price hikes and affect what people are able to put on their table.
The meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission that ended Saturday ultimately shelved the introduction of regulations, deciding to discuss the issue again next year.
A focal point of the meeting was a Japanese proposal to set catch quotas for each country and region. The suggestion was that if member economies set such quotas and refrain from overfishing before saury resources fall to a critical level, those countries can continue saury fishing in the future.
Japan’s proposal set quotas based on each economy’s catch results in the past five to 10 years. By adopting this method, the proposed quota would be large for Japan and small for China and Taiwan. This would be beneficial to Japan, making it easy for the government to secure the understanding of people related to the fishery industry.
However, China and South Korea opposed the move.
According to a senior official of Japan’s Fisheries Agency, China was against the idea of setting catch quotas, saying: “We don’t think saury [resources] are decreasing. Regulation is unnecessary.” South Korea sided with China, saying, “[The introduction of regulations] is premature.”
Japan considered seeking common ground by reviewing the quota for China, but China and South Korea would not compromise. Specific numbers for proposed quotas were not discussed.
“[The Japanese proposal] failed because of China’s opposition. To put it briefly, their position was that they don’t want to be bound in such a way,” Takashi Koya, director general of the Resources Management Department of the Fisheries Agency, said at a press conference after the talks.
Chinese fishing boats
The Japanese proposal for catch quotas was spurred by record-low catches of saury.
Japan had caught more than 200,000 tons of saury annually in recent years. But in 2015 and 2016, its catches ranged from 110,000 to 120,000 tons. Among people related to fishery, there is a widely shared view that sauries are caught by Chinese and Taiwan fishing boats on the high seas where anyone can catch fish, before they come into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Japan tried to change the situation via its proposal but failed. A person related to a Japanese fisheries cooperative association said: “Japan’s proposal is essentially that Japan used to catch this much but [resources] are decreasing, so [China and Taiwan] should not catch so much. It’s difficult to secure understanding for that.”
Sharp drop in saury hauls
The historically poor catches of saury have already led to price increases.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, the average wholesale price of saury was ¥332 per kilogram in 2006, but it rose to ¥564 in 2016, up about 70 percent.
A wholesaler said the first sauries of the season, which have arrived at the Tsukiji wholesale food market in Tokyo, are relatively small in size. “I feel hesitant about buying them. I have a feeling this year’s catch is going to be poor again,” he said.
According to a trader based at the Tsukiji market, a retail price of a saury fish in early September, when saury fishing begins in earnest, used to be about ¥150 but it has been in the ¥200-250 range in recent years.
“Catch quotas are necessary for fishing to be able to continue,” said Toshio Katsukawa, an associate professor at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology who is well versed in the protection and control of fishery resources. “It’s necessary to heighten momentum among member economies for resource control and for all the participants to put limits on themselves,” Katsukawa added.Speech