Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

  • Photo/Illustraion

A plunging fish catch in 2017 for the fourth consecutive year has the agriculture ministry considering drastic revisions to its fisheries resources control efforts as well as regulatory reform to encourage expansion of the commercial fish farming industry.

Japan’s fish hauls totaled a record low of 4.304 million tons, sinking 1.3 percent from the previous year, according to a government survey released by the agriculture ministry on April 26.

The record low haul of "surumeika" (Japanese flying squid) and "sanma" (Pacific saury) heavily affected the total fisheries and aquaculture production, which stood at its lowest since the survey of these species began in 1956.

The record low catch appears to be due to several factors, including natural environmental influences such as changes in ocean temperatures, as well as the rise in the fish catches in neighboring countries.

Countries have tightened controls of their 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. In addition, a decline of fishery resources has been blamed for the low hauls in recent years.

The agriculture ministry is seeking to compile specific measures to address the problem by the summer, which may include mapping out a strategy to raise the country’s fish production by tightening fish catches and bolstering the aquaculture industry.

Until now, fisheries resources have been controlled mainly by limiting the size and the number of fishing vessels. However, the ministry will shift its focus to controlling the volume of fish hauls.

To carry out thorough controls on fish catches, the ministry will consider expanding the setting of ceilings on the amount of fish taken by species, which has been already introduced for some. This will be coupled with the expansion of the species for catch quotas by fishery operators and fishing vessels.

As a control measure, the maximum sustainable yield concept, or MSY, the largest annual catch that can be maintained over an indefinite period, is also under consideration for introduction.

MSY will not only prevent resources depletion but also will maintain the level of the largest yield that can be taken from a species’ stock over the long term. The system has already been ushered in Europe and the United States.

As for regulatory reform, the ministry will consider reviewing the system to allow well-heeled companies and other entities with large sales markets to more easily acquire aquaculture fishery rights for “maguro” (tuna) or “tai” (sea bream), and other species.

The government's Regulatory Reform Council is discussing measures in the fisheries industry and is scheduled to compile a proposal at an early date.

The ministry's annual survey shows the wild fish catch reached a record low of 3.258 million tons, a drop of 0.2 percent compared to the previous year.

While ocean-farmed fish output fell to 985,000 tons, a 4.6 percent drop from a year earlier, freshwater fishing and aquaculture production dwindled for the second consecutive year to 62,000 tons, a drop of 1.7 percent from 2016.

Both the ocean-farmed fish output and the freshwater fishery and aquacultural production dropped for the second straight year.

By species, the catch of Japanese flying squid fell by 13 percent year on year, hitting a record low, while Pacific saury slumped 27 percent from last year, the second lowest on record, and the catch of salmon species declined by 29 percent, marking the third lowest on record.

On the other hand, harvests of “saba” (mackerel) and “maiwashi” (sardines), the two top species in terms of haul, rose to 515,000 tons, an uptick of 2 percent, and to 506,000 tons, up 34 percent year over year, respectively.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, global fisheries and aquaculture production surged to nearly 200 million tons annually while that of Japan has continued declining after reaching its peak in 1984, when it was 12.82 million tons.