Reasonably priced and tasty, saury is a fixture in autumn meals for Japanese, but that may change in the foreseeable future.
Japan’s saury catches have fallen sharply in the past few years, primarily due to a surge of fishing operations by large vessels from Taiwan and China on the high seas.
Government officials are worried about the depletion of saury resources but have not worked out an effective way to maintain stocks, raising the prospect of saury prices remaining high in Japan.
At an annual meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission in Sapporo last month, a representative of China opposed a Japanese proposal to set saury catch quotas for the commission’s member economies.
“We have not recognized a substantial fall in resources,” the representative said. “We don’t want to be restrained (by the proposed quotas) and see no need for one.”
With South Korea and Russia also in opposition, the Japanese proposal for curbing catches to preserve marine resources went nowhere at the meeting.
Participants at the NPFC meeting agreed to a one-year rule banning China, Taiwan and South Korea from increasing the number of their saury fishing vessels. They also decided to discuss the advisability of setting catch quotas for members at next year’s meeting, but there is little prospect of the disagreements on the quota issue being resolved.
At a news conference on July 25, then-Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yuji Yamamoto deplored the absence of effective measures to curb fishing operations by China, which caught about 60,000 tons of saury in 2016, 30 times the level of 2012.
“We are helpless against the overfishing of saury on the high seas,” Yamamoto said.
Prizing freshness, Japan mostly uses small and medium-sized ships to catch saury in its exclusive economic zone.
By contrast, much bigger Chinese ships catch saury on the high seas, mainly off Hokkaido, and a large amount of frozen saury is transported to China by specialized cargo vessels.
Before the NPFC meeting, Fisheries Agency officials said it would be difficult to sell the catch quota proposal to China, which is responsible for food for its 1.3 billion people.
“If Japan does not make the proposal, overfishing will only continue. It (the proposal) had the effect of warning China,” said a senior agency official who attended the meeting.
Japan has no solution, however, if China and Taiwan continue fishing on a scale similar to that of recent years.