Japan seeks to boost catch limits of prized bluefin tuna

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FILE - In this March 5, 2007 file photo, a bluefin tuna swims inside farming pens prior to harvest near Ensenada, Mexico. Countries involved in managing bluefin tuna fisheries are set to face-off over a Japanese proposal to raise its catch quotas for the fish, highly prized for sushi and sashimi. At an online meeting that began Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, Japan is seeking to raise its catch limits for both smaller and larger bluefin tuna by 20%. (AP Photo/Chris Park, File)

MITO – Japan has proposed raising its catch quotas for Pacific bluefin tuna, a fish so highly prized for sushi and sashimi that its population is at less than 5% of historical levels.

An online meeting of countries that manage the Pacific bluefin that began Tuesday is studying the proposal to raise Japan's catch limits for both smaller and larger bluefin tuna by 20%.

A slight improvement in the spawning population for the fish has raised confidence that it can recover from decades of overfishing. But conservation experts say increasing catch limits too soon could undo progress toward restoring the species.

Increasing harvests of such fish could also drive prices lower, making the industry less profitable in the long run, the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a report issued Tuesday.

The report, Netting Billions 2020: A Global Tuna Valuation, put the market value of seven tuna species including bluefin at $40.8 billion in 2018. Despite increased catches, that was a decrease from $41.6 billion in 2012.

“Just because increasing catch is sustainable does not mean it is always the right thing to do," said Grantly Galland, an officer in Pew's international fisheries team.

Prices for most species of tuna have fallen due to oversupply of caught fish, he said.

The meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission includes more than two dozen countries that collaborate to manage fisheries on the high seas and curb illegal and unauthorized fishing and other activities that endanger highly migratory species such as the Pacific bluefin.