Photo/IllutrationSaury unloaded in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Eight countries and regions have agreed to introduce the first annual quota on saury catches in the North Pacific Ocean to curb overfishing, which is believed to be a cause of poor hauls.

The agreement on the quota of 556,250 tons from 2020 was reached in an annual meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC), which was held in Tokyo until July 18.

The eight participants were Japan, Canada, Russia, China, South Korea, the United States, Vanuatu and Taiwan.

Japan proposed in the meeting that the quota should be set at 450,000 tons per year, almost the same as last year’s overall catches of 440,000 tons, and that the 450,000 tons should be divided into those caught in the high seas and those in exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

Japan catches saury mainly in its EEZ while China and Taiwan are doing so mainly in the high seas. By separating EEZ catches from those in the high seas, Japan aimed to secure its catches while preventing overfishing.

According to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, however, China, whose catches have been growing in recent years, insisted that the possibility of increasing the catches in the future should not be ruled out.

As a result of the discussions, the participants agreed to set the annual quota at 556,250 tons, which was about 100,000 tons more than Japan’s proposal and 25 percent larger than last year’s catches.

“We were able to introduce a big quota but this is not the final goal,” said Takashi Koya, head of the resources management division of the agency.

Of the 556,250 tons, 330,000 tons are assigned to the high seas while the remaining 226,250 tons are allocated to EEZs. Last year, 350,000 tons were caught in the high seas and 90,000 tons in EEZs.

The concrete volume of catches allocated to each country or region will be discussed in an NPFC meeting to be held next year.

Japan’s annual saury catches ranged between 200,000 tons and 350,000 tons during the 10 years up until 2009. However, they have drastically decreased since then. Catches in 2017 stood at only about 80,000 tons.

Japan also proposed a quota in NPFC meetings in 2017 and 2018. But China opposed it on the grounds that there are no agreed assessments on the resources. Therefore, agreements were not reached in the meetings.

Prior to this year's meeting, the Scientific Committee of NPFC pointed out in April that the volume of saury resources in 2017 was the smallest in the past 40 years.

Based on the view, members of the committee agreed that it was necessary to curb annual catches to a range between 400,000 tons and 550,000 tons.

Participants in the NPFC meeting that wrapped up on July 18 agreed on a quota that was close to the upper limit of the range.