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An internal report by a multilateral tuna conservation body says that about 100,000 tons of southern Bluefin tuna are estimated to have been caught above quotas and sold in Japan between 1996 and 2005, sources said Sunday.

This reinforces suspicions that Japanese vessels are fishing for the highly valued variety, the sources said.

The amount is far more than the volume of excessive fishing that the Fisheries Agency has admitted. The agency has said the over-quota catches by Japanese fishing boats total only 1,800 tons, all last year.

The report was compiled by an investigative panel of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, which counts Japan and Australia among its members.

According to the sources, based on the findings of the report, Australia blasted Japan at a meeting of the commission in October in Miyazaki for poaching southern Bluefin tuna for a long period. The findings were not made public.

The southern Bluefin tuna is a variety found in the Southern Hemisphere waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The commission was set up in 1994 to conserve stocks of this type of tuna due to serious depletion. The fish can grow up to 2 meters in length and weigh 150 kg, the second-largest variety after Bluefin tuna, which is found chiefly in the Northern Hemisphere.

Both varieties are the most expensive among the five major families of tuna and are coveted as sushi and sashimi.

Because of the findings, Japan was forced during the Miyazaki meeting to halve its catch quota of southern Bluefin tuna to 3,000 tons over the next five years from around 6,000 tons in 2006, the sources said.

The investigation panel was established earlier this year by the commission following the Australian accusation that the amount of Bluefin tuna sold in Japan is far more than its annual catch quota.

The panel comprised two experts each from Japan and Australia and conducted detailed analyses of import data and domestic sales volumes, according to the sources.

Australia said a total of 107,531 tons of tuna were fished beyond the quota between 1996 and 2005 while Japan’s estimate was somewhat smaller at 91,421 tons. The two sides, however, agreed that there has been an excessive catch over a long period.

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