TOKYO (WP-BLOOM) — Numbers of wild torafugu, or tiger pufferfish, a popular luxury food, have been in continual decline, according to a government agency.
The torafugu catch in the Sea of Japan, Seto Inland Sea and other main fishing grounds declined at least 30 per cent over the 11 years to 2013, according to the National Research Institute of Fisheries and Environment of Inland Sea, which is based in Hatsukaichi, and is part of the Fisheries Agency.
Levels of torafugu younger than one year old are estimated to be down as much as 60 per cent, which could push catch levels lower still.
As torafugu fishing gets into full swing to meet high winter demand, the Fisheries Agency, local governments concerned and others are scheduled to hold a conference to discuss resource management.
The institute found that the torafugu catch in the Sea of Japan, Ariake Sea, East China Sea and Seto Inland Sea declined from 383 tonnes in 2002, the earliest year data is available, to 250 tonnes in 2013.
Over the same period, the estimated number of young fish under one year old went from about 640,000 to about 260,000, suggesting possible overfishing.
Among the edible pufferfish species, torafugu are larger and considered a luxury item. There has been an increase in pufferfish farming recently, which has helped cover demand.
Males are mature at two years old and females at three years old, when they are able to spawn. Young torafugu have particular commercial value, which makes them vulnerable to overfishing.
“If things continue as they are, resource levels will keep declining,” said Daisuke Katamachi, a researcher at the institute. “To increase the number of adult fish that can spawn, we need to protect one-year-old fish in particular. If possible, two-year-olds and three-year-olds as well.”
Six prefectures that have long been concerned about the declining torafugu numbers — Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki and Kumamoto – have independently put in place regulations since 2005, such as setting fishing moratoriums and implementing size limits that require small fish 25 centimetres (about nine inches) or shorter to be thrown back when caught.
Longline fishers in Fukuoka Prefecture, which in 2012 had the nation’s top catch at 58 tonnes, have decided autonomously to increase this size limit to 35 cm, starting next January.