In late November the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) decided to cut the allowable catch of bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea by about 20 percent in four years. Earlier, the international commission for conserving southern bluefin tuna had halved Japan’s quota in the Pacific and Indian oceans in five years. Still another commission, in session through Friday, is weighing the status of cheaper tunas.

The immediate effect of these decisions for the Japanese will be a rise in tuna prices and less chance of eating toro (fatty tuna flesh). Yet the decisions also serve as a warning of sorts to Japanese consumers to change their “gourmet” eating habits for the sake of sustainable fishing in the future.

A grown-up bluefin tuna is more than three meters long and weighs nearly 400 kg. The Japanese eat more than 40,000 tons of these fish every year or most of the bluefin tuna caught worldwide. The Japanese also consume about a quarter of the global annual tuna catch of 2 million tons. Thus restraint in Japan can reduce overfishing pressures worldwide.

ICCAT’s scientific committee thinks that sustainable bluefin tuna resources can be attained in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea if the annual catch is cut from the current 32,000 tons to 15,000 tons. Since the total catch in those areas for 2010 is set at 25,500 tons, there is much room for Japan to cut back on consumption and influence other countries.

Japan’s strong demand for tuna has led to aquaculture fattening of young tuna in Spain, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Malta and other countries. Since only export amounts are reported, it is difficult to know the actual amount caught. Some tuna may be caught illegally. Japan, which imported 25,000 tons of aquaculture-bred tuna in 2005, must help solve this problem.

If sufficient care is taken early enough, tuna resources can be stabilized. Eating toro has been in vogue only since the 1960s. The Japanese can live without toro.

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