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Vanuatu among Ten Nations to consider Japans ‘bluefin flexible catch limits’

Tokyo looks to balance tuna conservationists, fisheries industry

Japan hopes to appease both the fisheries industry and the country’s environmentally conscious peers this week with its proposal to adjust the catch limits for Pacific bluefin tuna depending on progress toward reaching a crucial conservation goal.

The authority governing Pacific bluefin tuna fisheries meets Monday through Friday in Busan, South Korea. The Northern Committee of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission will weigh changes to a conservation plan that aims to increase the stock of spawning bluefin tuna to 41,000 tons by 2024.

The targeted figure is the estimated median size of that population between 1952 and 2014, a year when spawning stock was pegged as having declined to a mere 17,000 tons or so. Representatives of 10 nations and regions — Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, the U.S., Canada, Fiji, the Philippines, the Cook Islands and Vanuatu — will consider Tokyo’s proposal.

Hard limits currently exist on how much bluefin may be caught each year. Japan proposes adjusting those caps based on progress toward the 41,000-ton target. If the probability of reaching that goal in 2024 is seen as less than 60%, stricter fishing limits would take effect. But the cap could be loosened if the probability surpassed 65%.

The surveys used to determine these probabilities would be conducted annually, rather than every two years as they are now.

Tokyo’s plan aims to please conservation-minded European and American nations while addressing the interests of Japanese fishers, who generally oppose stricter limits. Japan, the world’s top bluefin catcher and consumer, “needs restrictions to be realistic,” an official at Japan’s Fisheries Agency said.

Environmental conservation groups have said Japan’s proposal does not go far enough, and nations such as the U.S. are unlikely to support the plan in its current form. Participants need to find a compromise they all can accept if this week’s talks are to bear real fruit.