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Fisheries

Bluefin tuna catch limit left unchanged in setback for Japan

Watchdog denies increase on US advice but lets Tokyo obtain 300 tons from Taiwan

A tuna auction at Tokyo's Toyosu fish market last October: Japan had been seeking a 20% higher quota. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

PORTLAND, Oregon (Kyodo) -- The Pacific fisheries commission decided Friday to forego an increase in fishing quotas next year for bluefin tuna, a popular fish for sushi and sashimi, requested by Japan due to opposition from the United States.

Japan sought a 20 percent expansion of its 4,882-ton large bluefin tuna quota and a 10 percent hike in the small fish quota of 4,007 tons at the four-day meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission's Northern Committee.

The United States opposed the proposed quota expansion, saying stocks of the species have not recovered enough. The Northern Committee comprises 10 countries and regions including South Korea and Taiwan.

While Japan's quota will remain unchanged, the members agreed on the country's acquisition of 300 tons of Taiwan's large bluefin tuna quota in 2020. The terms of the quota transfer are not known.

The committee also agreed that a member's unreached quota in 2019 can be carried over to 2020 as long as the amount does not exceed 17 percent of an annual catch limit, increased from the current 5 percent, Japan's Fisheries Agency said.

"It is disappointing that our proposal was not accepted considering that our fishery industry had high hopes" of quota increases, said Shingo Ota, the councillor of the agency's resources management department who led the Japanese delegation.

Japan will continue to propose a quota increase next year, based on the committee's 2017 agreement on a flexible cap on the catch depending on surveys of parent fish numbers, Ota said.

According to the stock assessment by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, the stock of large Pacific bluefin tuna with breeding capability dropped to about 12,000 tons in 2010 from a peak of 168,000 tons in 1961.

Restrictions on bluefin tuna fishing were introduced in 2015, setting a limit on each country's catch.

The stock had since been estimated to have recovered to around 21,000 tons in 2016, still short of the WCPFC's recovery target of about 43,000 tons.

The committee will hold its meeting next year in Japan.

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