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Peak Fish Prospect Threatens Japanese Diet

JAPAN - Japans little secret is out. All over Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, people are discovering what the Japanese have known for centuries: fish is good for you.

When it came to Japan’s predilection for fish, globalisation initially worked in its favour, writes David Pilling for the Financial Times. According to the news item, it sent an advanced fishing fleet to trawl the world’s oceans. Japan Airlines began a lucrative trade flying freshly caught tuna from America’s Atlantic seaboard to Tokyo. Until then those fish, highly prized in Japan, were pet food in the US. Such initiatives brought the Japanese a huge variety of fish all year round.

Japan is still the world’s biggest importer by some way. It has gone from being a net exporter in 1964 to importing more than 40 per cent of its fish requirements today. But Japanese buyers are now regularly outbid in auctions. Each year, about 100m tonnes of fish, 5 per cent of the 2bn tonnes of seafood biomass, are hauled from the oceans, according to a recent study published in Science. Many conservationists espouse “peak fish” theories, suggesting that catches have reached a limit, or gone beyond.

Meanwhile, Japan’s fishing industry faces crisis, says the Financial Times. The number of fishermen has sunk to 200,000 from a peak of 1m. That is still too many, compared with 10,000 in Norway. Too many boats chasing too few fish have devastated fish resources. By 2006, according to the Japan Economic and Social Research Institute, more than half of Japan’s fishing grounds had dangerously low stocks.

Masayuki Komatsu, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, says Japan needs a science-based quota system and a sustainable fisheries plan predicated on the concept that fish are a common property of the Japanese people not bona vacantia, ownerless goods belonging to whoever nets them first. Today’s policies stem from a desire to protect jobs and the notion that fishermen know better than scientists, he says.

the Fish Site Editor

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