The fish is a popular ingredient in sushi, and Japan alone consumes about 80 percent of the Atlantic and Pacific bluefins caught per year. In 2010, the demand led the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species to propose a ban on Atlantic bluefins until breeding stocks could be restored. According to the Telegraph, the ban failed due to heavy lobbying from Japan. Other environmental groups have proposed similar bans but have consistently received pushback from the island nation, which is the world’s biggest consumer of seafood.
Japan’s aboutface on the subject is due to the growing body of evidence that shows tuna populations are on the verge of collapse. This recent proposal was influenced by a 2013 international assessment that found stocks of bluefin tuna have fallen 96 percent from previous levels.
“Bluefin tuna is virtually the main resource in waters around Japan,” said Masanori Miyahara, president of Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency, during a meeting with tuna fishermen in Tokyo. “Japan must take the lead in protecting that resource.”
Japanese officials will present their proposal to members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission on September 1 in Fukuoka. The proposal will involve a 10-year recovery plan for Pacific bluefin tuna beginning in 2015 and a new restriction on the total amount of young tuna (those under 30 kg) that may be caught in a year. Authorities will issue warnings to fishermen once yearly hauls approach the new 4,000 ton ceiling.
“We give credit to the Fisheries Agency for finally taking serious action as it had done virtually nothing beforehand,” said Greenpeace Japan’s Wakao Hanaoka. “But we have to say that its actions are still not enough because [Pacific} bluefin tuna could make the list of endangered species any time.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has already listed the Southern and Atlantic bluefin tuna as endangered species.