Japan's science-based proposal overcame South Korea's resistance, helping to push an international accord that aims to halve catches of immature Pacific bluefin tuna, at a meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission held in Fukuoka earlier this month.
Now, attention is focused on whether a similar agreement can be reached to protect bluefin tuna in the Eastern Pacific, which is considered necessary to help the fish stock further recover.
"There was no other choice," said Masanori Miyahara, who chaired the meeting of a subcommittee of the WCPFC, at a press conference after the meeting. "South Korea had no choice but to accept" a numerical target to halve catches of immature bluefin tuna starting in 2015. Miyahara is special adviser to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
Participants from South Korea insisted at the meeting that it is difficult to achieve the target figure because when they catch mackerel, tuna becomes inadvertently caught as well, according to sources.
However, they were stuck looking for an answer after the Japanese side said mackerel and tuna would never be caught together because tuna fishing is generally done in daytime and mackerel fishing happens at night.
Japan's proposal to halve catches of tuna aged up to 3 years old is based on results of international scientific studies. More than one estimate showed that catches of immature bluefin tuna must be halved in order to recover the stock of mature bluefin tuna within 10 years.
South Korea had no choice but to accept Japan's proposal because most of 1,406 tons of bluefin tuna caught by South Korea was exported to Japan in 2012. South Korean participants asked Japan to give some part of its fishing quota to their country, but the other members did not allow it.
The new restrictions will be officially adopted at WCPFC's plenary session in December.
Though the stock of mature bluefin tuna dropped to 26,000 tons in 2012, a record low, the new restrictions are expected to help it recover to 43,000 tons by 2024.
However, the United States and other countries are asking for lower numerical targets and tighter restrictions on catches of immature tuna, which will be discussed at a WCPFC meeting next year.
Restrictions on catches of bluefin tuna in the Eastern Pacific will be discussed at a meeting of the Inter-America Tropical Tuna Commission in October.
Japan plans to make a proposal to halve catches of immature tuna at the meeting, but heated discussions are expected to follow because Mexico opposes the idea. Like South Korea, however, Mexico also exports most of bluefin tuna catch to Japan.
To ensure recovery of the stock of bluefin tuna, Japan, the world's biggest importer of tuna, must enhance a surveillance system to keep its commitment to the agreement in addition to introducing restrictions on fishing countries.