TOKYO -- A Japanese proposal to set quotas on high-seas catches of the popular Pacific saury was denied for a second straight year at a fisheries conference that concluded here Thursday.
China and Vanuatu opposed the quotas, citing the lack of up-to-date knowledge on saury stocks, Japan's Fisheries Agency said.
Still, the members of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission agreed on some measures to safeguard saury resources, such as refraining from fishing them in areas with high numbers of juveniles. They also decided that members looking to begin fishing saury will undergo a review by the commission first.
The eight members are Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, Vanuatu, the U.S. and Canada.
Japan faces a severe decline in catches of Pacific saury, a usually affordable fish commonly eaten in autumn, called sanma. Some blame overfishing in international waters, but others question whether stocks are really in danger.
At last year's annual NPFC meeting, Tokyo proposed saury quotas with specific catch caps for each member, but talks fell apart as China and other parties refused to get on board.
This year, Japan narrowed its approach to just seeking the creation of quotas. Tokyo asked that specific catch volumes for each member be determined later based on estimates of existing stocks to be reported next spring by the group's scientific committee.
NPFC members reported catching 266,000 tons of saury last year, the lowest collective haul since 2000. With its catches dwindling, Japan "strongly hopes that appropriate measures to manage resources will be introduced and implemented quickly," Fisheries Agency chief Shigeto Hase said.
Saury are commonly found in international areas of the northern Pacific, and their migration paths include coastal areas off Japan and Russia. Japan mostly fishes for the dinner-table staple within its exclusive economic zone, but other NPFC members including China and Taiwan do most of their saury fishing on the high seas. It has been suggested that a rapid rise in saury fishing by China and other parties is culling the fish before they reach coastal Japan.
Japan's saury catches in 2017 hit a roughly 50-year low of 77,000 tons. Wholesale prices at Tokyo's bustling Tsukiji fish market grew about 20% from 2016 to between 600 yen and 700 yen ($5.40 and $6.30) per kilogram, soaring 70% higher than five years ago.
The rising prices rippled out to retail, with even slimmer saury fetching 250 yen to 300 yen in stores in Tokyo, 30% to 40% higher than a year earlier. Consumer demand was subdued, said a source at a major supermarket.
Saury fishing season in Japan starts in earnest in mid-August. Last year's poor catches hurt local economies at major ports from the northern prefecture of Hokkaido down much of Japan's northern Pacific coast. Warm coastal waters this year may affect fishing activities and keep prices in high territory.
"Processed-foods makers in producing areas are suffering from two straight years of extremely poor catches," said an executive at a Tokyo-based national saury fishing association.