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Economy

Japan extends tuna fishing quotas to larger bluefin

New cap restricts catch over 30 kg to protect sushi favorite

Pacific bluefin tuna from waters off Oma in northern Japan would receive the largest share of the government's proposed quota. (Photo by Takumi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to introduce catch quotas for Pacific bluefin tuna weighing more than 30 kg, expanding restrictions on the popular fish to help restore stocks depleted by overfishing.

The proposal to be presented to ruling party lawmakers on Friday by the Fisheries Agency will set a total allowable catch of 4,627 tons, slightly above the roughly 4,500 tons caught last year. Each prefecture will be assigned a specific fishing limit.

The cap would take effect as soon as this summer in Japan, the biggest consumer of the sushi and sashimi ingredient.

The agency imposed quotas for small bluefin in 2015. Survey data indicates that the restriction has helped stocks rebound, which should mean an increase in big tuna as well when the young fish mature.

The cap on larger fish aims to provide a further safeguard against overfishing and help Japan abide by its international pledge to keep its total annual haul below about 8,900 tons.

The Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international body that monitors tuna catches, may consider higher quotas if a recovery in bluefin populations can be confirmed. Japanese regulators hope to persuade the commission at a September meeting in Japan to increase catch limits for next year and beyond.

The high price of Pacific bluefin makes it a rich source of income for fishing communities. The agency seeks to set a coastal catch limit of 1,105 tons for big fish, raising it from 732 tons in the initial draft after a backlash from local governments.

Proposed quotas for many individual areas in Japan were boosted significantly in the latest version as well, in light of the economic importance of the fish. The northern prefecture of Aomori, home of the famed Oma tuna, would get the largest share at 401 tons.

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