Photo/IllutrationThe “nagare meita garei” flounder was excluded from the endangered category of Japan's Red List for marine creatures. (Provided by Kyoto University professor emeritus Tetsuji Nakabo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Several environmental organizations are questioning the validity of the Japanese government’s first Red List for sea creatures, saying many endangered species were omitted and insufficient information was used.

Some suggested the government was trying to intentionally control the classification of certain creatures.

The Environment Ministry and the Fisheries Agency assessed about 10,000 species for the Red List, which was released in March.

In the list, Ogasawara coral was the only species classified as extinct. Fifty-six species--30 crustaceans, 16 fish, six corals and four other invertebrates--were listed as endangered.

However, the Red List does not include some species that are considered endangered under the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Swiss-based organization that publishes the global Red List.

For the Japanese Red List, the government also uses the IUCN’s standards for its assessments.

For example, catches of “nagare meita garei” flounder have declined in recent years, and the fish was initially placed in the “Endangered 2 (Vulnerable Species)” category, two notches below “Critically Endangered 1A.”

However, the Fisheries Agency concluded that it would be inappropriate to designate the flounder as an endangered species because it is often caught with similar-looking fish without the fishermen’s knowledge, and the actual population may be much higher.

In the end, the fish was classified in the “Data Deficient (DD)” category.

Under the IUCN standards, four other edible fish--“kiguchi” yellow croaker, “maeso” lizardfish, “managatsuo” butterfish and “maruaji” scad--are endangered.

But the Japanese government decided to exclude them from the endangered list, giving such reasons as “large fluctuations in the annual data.”

According to Teppei Doke, secretary-general of the Japan Committee for the IUCN, the Japanese government compiled its Red List using IUCN guidelines, but it did “apply the IUCN criteria in a different way.”

The IUCN Red List’s five criteria include reduction of species’ population (Criteria A) and decline in the number of habitat areas (Criteria B).

A species is checked against all five criteria, and if the data matches at least one criteria, the species is considered endangered.

Japanese authorities, however, give preference to Criteria E, which quantitatively analyzes the probability of extinction, so their evaluations often differ from those of the IUCN.

But even under Criteria E, the five fish excluded from Japan’s Red List, such as the nagare meita garei flounder, are classified as endangered.

The Fisheries Agency, which evaluated those fish and 89 other species of fish and small whale, explained that its evaluations were based “not just on the criteria but also on the opinions of experts.”

“If the Red List is a warning alert for extinction, the setting for the sensor to set off the alarm was probably too relaxed,” Doke said.

On April 7, six organizations, including WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Japan, released a joint statement against Japan’s Red List for sea creatures. They demanded the government improve it by “redoing its evaluations after gathering more information.”

The groups are also concerned that the 225 species classified as “Data Deficient” could include endangered creatures under international standards.

For example, the finless porpoise, a type of cetacean, was not included in Japan’s Red List because “there are at least 17,000 inhabiting (Japanese waters).”

But it is classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List, as well as under separate indexes set by the seven prefectural governments of Kanagawa, Mie, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, Ehime and Nagasaki.

“The criteria may have been applied arbitrarily in the government’s Red List,” said Nanami Kurasawa of the Iruka and Kujira (dolphin and whale) Action Network.

The government also did not evaluate some species that are recognized internationally as endangered, including certain types of tuna, sharks and large whales.

“It is inappropriate to make independent evaluations of scarcity (for such species) by just looking at their populations in Japanese territory,” a government official said.

Seiji Hayama, chief of the conservation department of the Wild Bird Society of Japan, isn’t buying that argument.

“(The government’s explanation) contradicts its listing of migratory birds that fly over borders on the Environment Ministry’s Red List for land animals,” Hayama said.