International agreement for fishery resources conservation is required

Pacific saury is one of the characteristic autumn flavors for Japanese people. However, many people may be concerned about the reports that fishing has been poor for several years.

Two main reasons are considered for the poor catch. One of them is said to be the change of migration route of Pacific saury caused by the sea temperature change due to global warming. In other words, Pacific sauries have stopped coming to off the coast of Japan. The issue of greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO2, even affects fisheries.

Another reason is that international regulations haven’t been settled and leave Pacific saury fishery in, so to speak, the unlimited fishing zone. Although the Pacific saury catch in Japan has decreased remarkably in recent years, the catch in China and Taiwan has increased since about 2000.

Because unlike Japan, where the majority of Pacific saury fishing is done in the coastal waters, China and Taiwan do fishing in the high seas, so even if the migration route of Pacific saury changes, they can follow and catch them.

It is said that China and Taiwan started to catch large quantities of Pacific saury for processing purposes, such as canning, but this trend is not only in China and Taiwan. In the last 20 years, the total consumption of fish has increased worldwide.

What will happen if this situation continues? Not only does it prevent Japanese people from enjoying seasonal Pacific saury, but it also leads to the depletion of the entire fishery resources.

Of course, the international community isn’t just sitting there doing nothing about this situation. It is progressing the development of laws for the conservation of fishery resources. For example, the tuna fishery regulation was widely reported in Japan, and many people may remember it.

For Pacific saury, the North Pacific Fisheries Commission, which considers the conservation of fishery resources in the North Pacific Ocean within individual governments, has been discussing fishery regulations, but it has not reached a broad agreement. Without a consensus-based international framework, managing resources is difficult in reality.

Furthermore, even if an agreement is reached, the rules may be merely a formality without setting the total allowable catch and how to comply with it.

IUU fishing, which refers to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries, is becoming an issue. In other words, vessels that don’t follow the rules rampage and continue overfishing.

The North Pacific Fisheries Commission has a list of vessels conducting IUU fishing and has established agreements to enforce regulations when these vessels are caught.

Japan strictly complies with these regulations, but some countries are not keen to abide by them and are not careful of their management.

On the other hand, some areas have a well-functioned system to set up and comply with fishery regulation policies promptly. That is the EU.

EU high environmental awareness that supports its common fisheries policy

First, EU member states have agreed to set regulations on fisheries at the EU level and delegate their authority to the EU. That is the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

For example, the EU determines that the total allowable catch of fish in North Sea waters is 10,000 tons per year. The 10,000 tons are then shared among the member states that wish to catch the fish. If the German quota is 1,000 tons, Germany must manage its fishers not to exceed it.

As part of EU Fisheries Control, EU vessels are also carrying out surveillance, and if there are any suspicious fisheries conducted, they are immediately checked.

Up to this point, the mechanism is almost the same as that of international rules. Furthermore, the EU has introduced a traceability system for fishery resources. In other words, it’s a fish certification system.

First of all, when fishers catch fish, they record which sea area and what method is used for fishing, not only the amount of catch. The logbook information is written as-is on the package containing the fish they caught.

Then, the information continues passed on with the fish, whether at a fish processing plant, separated in small batches sold at a market, or wrapped in plastic on a small tray at a supermarket.

In other words, the information is printed on a processed fish product package as an ingredient or on a sticker attached to small trays sold at supermarkets. Fish vendors at markets check the information about the fish when purchasing it so that they can answer customers’ questions immediately at the market.

In other words, the system does not allow the distribution of fish from illegal fisheries.

Also, consumers can buy fish with peace of mind as there is information about the fish. In other words, consumers are very conscious of fishery resource conservation.

The efficiency of the EU CFP functions is due to the high level of awareness and interest in environmental issues in the EU.

The fishery issue is also understood as the fishery resource issue, not only a matter of food, and is considered related to environmental policy.

The awareness is that exhausting fishery resources by overfishing is against sustainability and against diversity.

Looking back on us Japanese, eel, a popular food for common people in the Edo period, is now a luxury food. So it is uncertain about the future of Pacific saury, which has long been popular as a flavor of autumn.

It may lead to declining living beings on the Earth and a loss of biological diversity in the oceans, as well as the end of our traditional food culture.

We Japanese, who have cultivated a culture of living in harmony with nature, need to look again at initiatives like those of the EU.

Considerations for fishery resource conservation

Of course, it does not mean that all aspects of the EU’s initiatives have no issues. There are also some difficulties.

For example, the EU established a plan for net-zero emissions by 2050. However, to look at the CO2 emission issues, the position differs among member states. In reality, some member states cannot transit to renewable energy and rely on thermal power.

In that sense, each state has its own circumstances, and their degree varies greatly. If the EU is involved in the circumstances as a union, new problems will arise.

Further coordination is essential to maintain unity as the EU.

For example, the well-functioning CFP has a long history. The discussions among countries began in the 1970s.

Initially, the policy focused on the economic aspects of the fishery. As the policy is directed toward environmental issues and sustainability, well-functioning mechanisms were being built, including establishing a guarantee system for fishers who complied with regulations.

For countries with different circumstances and stances to move in a unified direction, it is essential to have discussions over time and the mutual understanding that results from these discussions.

In the international community, these circumstances are even more complicated. There are gaps in the economic and technological capabilities among countries globally, and their circumstances vary.

For example, one of the circumstances is the unique culture and customs cultivated by the ethnic groups of each country. It’s challenging to reach mutual understanding.

In fact, many countries do not understand Japan’s whaling culture.

Of course, Japan also does not hope for whales to become extinct, so Japan has continued research on whaling and collected scientific data on whale conservation. However, it is also condemned as commercial whaling by anti-whaling countries and organizations.

In other words, if we look at the objective data with the aspect that whales should not be caught in the first place, the data will become unconvincing.

Such friction may be less likely in regions like the EU, where there is understanding of the history and culture of each member state and where values are increasingly shared.

However, if we look at the entire world, to protect the diversity of fishery resources, we may end up denying the cultural diversity of various ethnic groups.

After all, I believe this problem can be solved by taking some time to discuss and deepen mutual understanding, as the EU has done through the CFP.

On the other hand, I consider that consumers must be concerned with the fact that their personal affairs are related to the international community.

For example, the price of eel has been going down a little recently. However, that may be because Japanese traders purchase glass eels caught in significant quantities by illegal fisheries like IUU.

Even though Japanese fishery workers are strictly controlled to comply with international fishing regulations, if they purchase fish caught by IUU fishing in other countries, that means Japan is also involved in IUU fishing.

Fish is a vital fishery resource. If we consume a lot of fish cheaply now, it will lead to an increase in illegal fisheries in other countries, and if the resources are exhausted by that, Japanese and people around the world will not be able to eat fish in the future.

It also leads to breaking the balance in the global environment. It’s nice that we can eat eel and Pacific saury cheaply, but please think about what lies behind that situation.

* The information contained herein is current as of December 2021.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.