Japan wants China to cooperate in crackdown on coral poaching

To tackle an increasing number of coral poaching incidents by Chinese vessels in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Tokyo will request Beijing to allow Japanese government vessels to control such unauthorized activities in the waters.

The government plans to request through diplomatic channels that China respond to Japan's call for talks to allow the Japanese maritime crackdown in the waters around Okinawa Prefecture, which is not currently permitted under a bilateral fisheries pact.

Coral harvesting, which is illegal under Chinese domestic legislation, also is restricted by Japanese law.

In the East China Sea between the main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima island, where the rare red coral known as precious coral can be found, Chinese ships operating out of ports in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces have often been spotted harvesting the coral illegally.

In November, the Japanese government confirmed a large-scale poaching operation by about 200 vessels. In many such cases, the poachers root up coral using trawling nets, which may eventually make the coral extinct.

In coastal waters around Japan, coral reefs are usually found growing in the shallows. Precious coral, however, is found only in the sea at a depth of more than 100 meters and grows only about 0.15 millimeters a year.

Precious coral, which sells for as much as ¥6 million per kilogram, is prized as jewelry, particularly in China.

The ocean area in question is located close to Japanese territorial waters and within Japan's EEZ. Therefore, in such waters, the Fisheries Agency and the Japan Coast Guard normally have the authority to crack down on suspicious vessels.

However, in 1997, when Japan and China signed the bilateral fisheries pact, the two governments agreed to allow the operation by Chinese vessels in waters south of 27 degrees latitude and north of the boundary of the East China Sea, while confirming that Japanese laws and regulations do not apply to Chinese nationals in the area.

As a result, the Japanese government is unable to crack down on suspicious vessels in the waters, creating the situation that a government official describes as "out of control."

In August, when a meeting was held by a fisheries committee jointly set up by the two governments, government officials agreed to introduce the system in which Japan reports cases of illegal coral fishing to China.

However, poachers often use tricks, such as transferring harvested coral to another vessel on the ocean, thus slipping through checks by the Chinese authorities.

Some within the Japanese government have said that China should, as a matter of course, also respond to bilateral talks to work on measures against illegal coral fishing. However, how the Chinese government reacts to Japan's request remains an open question.