Japan seeks to boost catch limits of prized bluefin tuna

MITO, JAPAN (AP) — Japan has proposed raising its catch quotas for Pacific bluefin tuna, a fish so highly prized for sushi and sashimi that its population is at less than five per cent of historical levels.

An online meeting of countries that manage the Pacific bluefin that began on Tuesday is studying the proposal to raise Japan’s catch limits for both smaller and larger bluefin tuna by 20 per cent.

A slight improvement in the spawning population for the fish has raised confidence that it can recover from decades of overfishing. But conservation experts said increasing catch limits too soon could undo progress toward restoring the species.

Increasing harvests of such fish could also drive prices lower, making the industry less profitable in the long run, the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a report issued on Tuesday.

The report, Netting Billions 2020: A Global Tuna Valuation, put the market value of seven tuna species including bluefin at USD40.8 billion in 2018. Despite increased catches, that was a decrease from USD41.6 billion in 2012.

“Just because increasing catch is sustainable does not mean it is always the right thing to do,” said Grantly Galland, an officer in Pew’s international fisheries team.

Prices for most species of tuna have fallen due to oversupply of caught fish, he said.

The meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission includes more than two dozen countries that collaborate to manage fisheries on the high seas and curb illegal and unauthorised fishing and other activities that endanger highly migratory species such as the Pacific bluefin. The countries participating in management of the Pacific bluefin committed in 2017 to reducing their catches to help return the species to 20 per cent of its historic size by 2034.

Japan plays a critical role in the survival of the species not just because of its huge appetite for the fish. The Pacific bluefin spawns almost entirely in seas near Japan and Korea.

A 422-pound Atlantic bluefin tuna is hoisted from a boat at the South Portland, Maine. PHOTO: AP