The Fisheries Agency will start enforcing penal regulations on Pacific bluefin tuna caught by Japanese fishermen in January, in line with stricter international controls aimed at overfishing.
The agency hopes that comprehensive resources management will allow fishermen to continue catching the prized fish amid concerns that global tuna stocks are being depleted, officials said.
Japan is the world’s largest consumer of Pacific bluefin, which is used to make high-end sushi and sashimi.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission allocates catch quotas to its members, including Japan and the United States.
On the basis of the national quota, Japan distributes portions to domestic fishermen in line with fishing methods used and region of operations. But fishermen in many areas have caught more than permitted, raising questions about the effectiveness of current regulations in preventing overfishing.
Under the new penal regulations, fishermen will be required to submit periodic reports on details of their hauls and the agency will be authorized to order fishermen to suspend operations if their catches are likely to outstrip the limits.
Violators will face a prison term of up to three years or a fine not exceeding ¥2 million.
Japan’s current regulations have no penalty provision. This means that maintaining fishing limits effectively depends on voluntary efforts.
The penal regulations will take force in January for round haul net fishing, which uses midsize and large ships, and in July for coastal fishing, including fixed net fishing.
Pacific bluefin tuna resources were estimated at 17,000 tons in 2014, in terms of adult fish, only a tenth of the level of the early 1960s. Since 2015, the WCPFC has substantially cut catch quotas assigned to member economies in a bid to help resources recover.
Japanese fisheries industry people are concerned that the United States and the European Union may call for a further tightening of international regulations if resources fail to recover strongly.
The WCPFC aims to increase Pacific bluefin tuna resources to about 41,000 tons by 2024 and some 130,000 tons by 2034.
Japan hopes to gain a lager catch quota by contributing to an early recovery of resources, the officials said.