Japan’s coastal tuna catch has decreased sharply, apparently due to overfishing in the Pacific by Taiwanese fishing companies using large vessels in violation of a regional conservation agreement, the Fisheries Agency and other sources said.

These sources claim Taiwanese companies have been catching massive amounts of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific — one of the world’s major tuna grounds — by using large vessels built in violation of the February 1992 accord.

All of the newly built vessels are registered with small countries, including Vanuatu, to skirt the agreement, the sources said.

The agreement requires major fishing countries and territories, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States, to refrain voluntarily from building new tuna vessels for use in the area.

Japan, the U.S., South Korea and other countries have asked Taiwan to stop operating the large vessels and reduce their number.

Officials in the Fisheries Agency say overfishing was partly due to the growth of canned tuna exports from Taiwan to Japan.

The agency said it will ask Japanese trading houses investing in such Taiwanese firms to cooperate with the agency’s efforts to reduce the number of the vessels.

According to a Japanese fisheries industry source, trading houses in Japan and Taiwan have urged Taiwanese fishing companies to increase the number of the vessels because they compete in Asia’s canned tuna market.

Under the 1992 agreement, the signatories agreed to refrain from building new fishing vessels for Western and Central Pacific operations to ward off sharp declines in the fishing stocks in the area.

The tuna populations in that area had plunged, allegedly due to uncontrolled fishing in the absence of any international regulatory organization.

Taiwanese fishing firms have built 25 vessels weighing more than 2,000 tons since the 1992 accord and they continue to catch large amounts of tuna and skipjack by using the encirclement method.

Last year’s catches by Taiwan are believed to have reached 450,000 tons, compared with 250,000 tons in 1999.

Tuna migration to Japanese coastal waters has declined sharply and some Japanese fishery operators have gone bankrupt.

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