The Japanese delegation in Doha said it was totally opposed to a ban on international trade in bluefin tuna but it would back a halt to fishing if scientists warned stocks were in danger.
“Our position is quite simple, we would like to take conservation measures in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, not under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,” said Masanori Miyahara, head of the Japanese delegation.
“We are concerned about the bluefin tuna. We were willing to have the suspension of Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery at ICCAT [last November] but it was the EU that opposed it.”
Mr Miyahara, who is chief counsellor to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said there would be a new stock assessment undertaken by ICCAT this autumn.
“As a result we will take necessary measures and if necessary suspension [of fishing for bluefin].”
Mr Miyahara said that Japan has worked hard in the past four years to crack down on illegally caught fish. It had forced tuna penners in North African waters to release 840 tonnes of bluefin that were of questionable origin.
It has also impounded 2300 tons of Maltese and Spanish frozen tuna because it does not have completed documents of origin.
Mr Miyahara said Japan had a five-stage inspection system, using video to check the amount of fish in tuna cages.
“It is not us, but the exporters and fishers who have to demonstrate compliance,” he said.
“We are very serious about bluefin conservation and we are ready to take very serious measures,” he said.
He said that the proposal to list bluefin on Cites Appendix 1 was “unfair” because it would allow the EU to catch 3,000 tons, more than any country currently has under ICCAT, and the United States would be allowed to go on fishing for its own domestic market.
Mr Miyahara said it would be a mistake to think that Japan could not do without bluefin, however. Bluefin represented only 3 per cent of imports. It imports annually 400,000 tonnes of high quality including yellowfin, southern bluefin tuna and bigeye.
Some delegations are picking up feelers that despite Japan’s outright opposition to bluefin being included under the Cites treaty, it might be prepared to compromise on some form of Appendix II listing, which means regulated trade.
Mr Miyahara is a veteran of the Japanese delegation which successfully saw off an attempt by Sweden to list the bluefin tuna on Cites Appendix 2 in 1992.
A member of the Swedish delegation who asked to remain anonymous said last night: “Sweden withdrew the proposal in 1992 because ICCAT promised to shape up, which they did not do. This has been demonstrated by Monaco in its 47-page proposal to list bluefin under Cites Appendix 1.”