Honolulu-- Japan's representative to what are effectively the tuna talks in Hawaii said that the United States proposal that the Tuna Commission increase its catch-quota on for bigeye tuna is “unfair.”
“I think the U.S. is picking up only limited factors which are in favor of their operations. So, I think it is unfair,” Japan delegation head Shingo Ota told reporters.
Pacific nations and other members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission are locked in tense discussions over the future of the tropical tuna fishery which includes bigeye tuna as well as skipjack and yellowfin.
WCPFC's current members are Japan, Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, the European Community, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Tonga, Tuvalu, the United States of America, and Vanuatu.
Ota was quick to criticize the U.S. proposal, joining other Pacific nations in resisting any increase in the quota. “Their proposal is that if a country has better observer coverage and does not conduct transshipment, they can receive more allocation,” Ota said.
The U.S. is seeking a higher catch limit for bigeye tuna by its Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet. In its proposal, Washington highlights the significant levels of monitoring and control it maintains in the fishery, outperforming other members of the Commission. The U.S. points out that while the large longline fleets maintained by Japan, Korea and Taiwan have failed to meet the Commission’s minimum requirement of placing independent fisheries observers on five percent of their vessels, the Hawaii-based US fleet does better. Figures included in the proposal show the U.S. fleet has achieved observer coverage of about 20 per cent in its deep-set fishery and 100 percent in its shallow-set fishery.
But Japan said the figures cited in the U.S proposal that suggest observer coverage on the Japanese fleet has gone down in the past year are “misleading.” “Actually, the U.S figures is [sic] not correct and we are actually implementing five percent coverage. In some of the fleets a little bit less than five percent, but some of the fleets are more than five percent,” Ota stated.
Longline fishing vessels at Palau's harbor. (Photo: Richard W. Brooks)
The future of Japan’s fishing in Palau
Japan stressed the importance of its relationship with the Pacific, with most of the big scale fishing by the Japanese centered in Pacific nation waters, but it is also concerned about the 20 small-scale longliners from Okinawa prefecture that are operating in the Palau exclusive economic zone. Ota said those boats fear losing their livelihood once the island nation transitions 80 percent of its waters to a no-fishing zone. He said Japan is currently in talks with Palau to allow Okinawa fishermen to continue to fish in Palau after 2020- or the implementation of the Palau Marine Sanctuary. “We are very much concerned because this is the main fishing ground for those 20 small-scale longliners. If Palau is going to close the area, those vessels have nowhere to go, “ Ota said.
He said Japan is requesting Palau to find a way, maybe through research, to allow the fishermen from Okinawa to continue fishing. Ota however declined to give further details on the request. Japan is one of Palau’s top foreign donors and the aid provided by Tokyo allowed the island nation to build roads and infrastructure. By 2020, Palau is set to designate 80 percent of the nation's maritime territory as a fully protected marine reserve in which no fishing or mining, can take place. Twenty percent of Palau's waters will become a domestic fishing zone reserved for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports. The marine sanctuary is President Tommy Remenegsau’s signature policy. As he has often said, Palau wants to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations.