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International panel agrees on new flexible bluefin tuna catch limit amid overfishing concerns

Kyodo

An international fisheries panel agreed Friday to adjust catch restrictions on bluefin tuna in the northern Pacific, based on surveys of parent fish numbers, Japan’s Fisheries Agency said Friday, amid concerns that stocks are dwindling due to overfishing.

Wrapping up a five-day meeting through Friday in Busan, South Korea, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission reached the deal after toughening a Japanese-proposed flexible cap on catch sizes. The new catch limit is likely to be implemented in 2019.

Due to overfishing, the population of parent fish in the Pacific fell to about 17,000 tons in 2014, hitting a near record-low.

The panel also agreed on a long-term target, to allow stocks to replenish from this level to about 130,000 tons by 2034.

The panel made some progress toward mitigating the depletion of fish stocks, but the agreed restriction could prove a tough measure for fishery operations in Japan. The nation is a major consumer of the threatened fish, which are known as a prized delicacy when served as sushi.

Under the current interim goal to restore stocks to about 41,000 tons by 2024, the WCPFC halved the cap on takes of bluefin tuna weighing less than 30 kg from the 2002-2004 average level.

In recent years, measures aiming to halt a plunge in fish numbers have been on the agenda at the commission’s meetings. The group is made up of more than 20 countries and economies including Japan, the United States, South Korea, China, Taiwan and the European Union.

At the Busan conference, Japan proposed catch quotas be slashed if the likelihood of attaining the panel’s goal falls below 60 percent in future resource surveys, but to expand the cap when it is over 65 percent.

Apparently taking into account the United States, which advocated stricter restrictions, the panel decided to set approximately 75 percent as the criteria level for countries to increase their catch.

In 2015, Japan and other members of the commission adopted quotas to protect Pacific bluefin tuna. But earlier this year, the Japanese government said it had breached its commitment, slightly exceeding the annual limit of 4,007 tons on catches of immature Pacific bluefin tuna.

In a report released in April, the agency said the domestic catch reached 4,008 tons, citing unusually large hauls in western Japan and the effect of tuna killed as bycatch in fixed nets.

The excess catch for the current year will be deducted from next year’s quota.