Government Condemns Japanese Tuna Fishing Plans

  • Simon Upton
Foreign Affairs and Trade

Acting Foreign Minister Simon Upton and Fisheries Minister John Luxton today condemned Japanese plans to begin experimental fishing of the depleted Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) stocks from this Friday.

The Japanese Government announced this afternoon that 65 vessels intended to catch up to 1400 tonnes of SBT under the experimental fishing programme, in excess of Japan's previous quota allocation of 6065 tonnes. New Zealand and Australia have agreed to restrain their catch to previous allocations (420 tonnes for New Zealand). There has been no agreement on quotas this year.

Mr Upton responded to the announcement by summoning the Japanese Ambassador and expressing the Government's deep disappointment at the move, which is feared could undermine the sustainability of SBT stock.

"We strongly oppose Japan's plans to begin experimental fishing of SBT, and urge them not to proceed," Mr Upton and Mr Luxton said in a joint statement.

"We are seriously concerned about the precariously low levels of SBT stock, and we do not believe their are scientific benefits that would justify the further depletion caused by removals under Japan's experimental fishing programme."

In 1994 New Zealand, Japan and Australia formed a Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, aimed at conserving and managing SBT stocks, and since last September parties to the Convention have been attempting to negotiate global catch limits and national allocations.

However the Convention has not been able to agree on modifications necessary to Japanese experimental fishing proposal despite a series of meetings which resulted from discussions between Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and Prime Minister Hashimoto in Japan earlier this year.

"New Zealand and Australia have made very serious attempts to reach a consensus with Japan on how experimental fishing could be designed to provide useful scientific results while mitigating risks to the sustainability or recovery of SBT stock," the Ministers said.

"Japan claims that experimental fishing is needed in order to reduce scientific uncertainty about the stock status of SBT, which is a highly migratory fish.

"Unfortunately, we are not convinced that Japan's programme will produce reliable scientific data that will assist in reducing uncertainty. We are concerned that it may do further damage to the stock, and we are extremely concerned at Japan's decision to proceed unilaterally. Indeed a considerable proportion of the fishing is unmodified commercial fishing.

"The Japanese Ambassador was called in to hear our protest at Japan's decision to proceed unilaterally with a programme which we consider to be defective. We shall be considering what other steps we should take in the next few days."

The Ministers said the New Zealand Government remained committed to cooperating with Japan in the Commission arrangement with Australia over the conservation and management of SBT, despite its disappointment at today's announcement.