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KOCHI (Kyodo) Pacific coast fishing companies, local governments and academic researchers launched a group Saturday for the preservation of bonito amid concern the species, which plays a major role in Japanese cuisine, is in decline.

The group’s inaugural conference was held in Kuroshio, a town in Kochi Prefecture where fishermen still engage in traditional pole-and-line bonito fishing.

The effort was initiated by the Kuroshio Municipal Government, which had called for parties with a major interest in bonito fishing to join forces and help prevent the species from dying out.

In response, municipalities in such Pacific coast prefectures as Miyagi, Ibaraki, Chiba, Shizuoka and Kagoshima attended Saturday’s gathering.

In all, officials from 16 municipalities in 10 prefectures took part.

Some fishermen using the pole-and-line method, which involves hand-held or mechanically operated poles with baited hooks, argue that large operations by boats with encircling nets around the equator could further reduce bonito catches off Japanese shores.

The science committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission said in a report last year that the bonito population has declined rapidly, while Japanese fisheries officials have attributed the fall to a surge of foreign fishing boats, mostly from China and Taiwan.

They are one of the most important fish used in Japanese cuisine. They are served as sushi or sashimi, while bonito flakes are used for “dashi,” which forms the base for many soups, including soybean soup.

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