The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is hoped the fishing industry can harness the expertise of private companies and become a sustainable industry that supports local communities.
The revised Fisheries Law will come into force in 2020.
Japan’s fishery production used to be the largest in the world, but the nation’s volume of fish catches has plunged to about one-third of its 1980s peak. The aging of commercial fishermen and a lack of successors for them also are serious problems for the industry. Steps to breathe life back into the fisheries industry must be taken quickly.
The biggest pillar of the revised law is an overhaul of the fishing rights system that gives priority to local fishery cooperatives. Under the revised law, prefectural governments can decide to grant fishing rights to private companies and other newcomers to the industry for fishing grounds that are not being fully used. The aquaculture industry is expected to play a pivotal role.
Many of Japan’s commercial fishermen are engaged in small-scale operations, and the industry remains rather inefficient. Production volume per fisherman in Norway, which has promoted larger scales of operation in its fishing industry, is about eight times that of Japan’s fishermen.
If private companies expand the scale of fishing operations, using cases from other nations for reference, it can be expected that Japan’s fishing industry will be revitalized. Making it easier for companies to enter the industry will be a step in the right direction.
The agriculture industry is pressing ahead with the introduction of “smart farming,” which boosts productivity through use of technologies such as artificial intelligence. The fishing industry too should make the most of cutting-edge technologies.
On the other side of the coin, if it is decided that fishing grounds are being effectively used, existing cooperatives can retain their fishing rights. This can be described as a gesture of consideration to local commercial fishermen.
Tighter resource monitoring
Under what conditions would fishing grounds be recognized as being used effectively? The problem is that the standards for determining this are unclear. A highly transparent framework is needed both for fishery cooperatives and new industry players. Prefectural governments should accurately spread information about issues such as which fishing grounds new arrivals to the industry can seek rights for.
Apprehension also is spreading among fishing cooperatives in many regions. There is a risk that private companies might withdraw from the industry if they do not turn a profit due to reasons such as competition from imported fish. If that happens, a local fishing industry could fall into decline. A perspective that promotes the coexistence of local fishermen and companies entering the industry will be essential.
The revised law also includes steps for the strengthened monitoring of fishery resources. The total allowable catch system, which has set the upper limit for annual catches of certain fish species, will be expanded to cover more species than the current eight. In addition, the system will be changed to a method under which annual catches will be allotted individually to fishing boats.
Having controls only on each fish species resulted in a “first come, first served” situation, which could easily lead to overfishing. Under the new method, operators can devise ways to increase their profits, such as by concentrating their fishing at times when fish sell for higher prices.
Fairly distributing fishing quotas among individual boats will be important.
Determining which fish species will newly be covered by total allowable catches has yet to be coordinated. How to strike a balance between the full use and protection of fishery resources is another task that needs to be addressed.