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Japan Wants To Stop Decline In Tuna Consumption And Exports

The latest Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) Trade News Report draws a recent picture of the Japanese tuna industry including the effects of the promises and actions made by the Japanese government had in the sector.
According to FFA, the political significance of Japanese fishers is indicated by the Japan Fisheries Agency’s response to mass demonstrations at soaring fuel costs in
July 2008; it provided a new US$703 million subsidy to the sector.

Fisher’s associations were compensated for 90% of the costs of fuel rises and those fishers, who were so badly hit by fuel price rises that they had to halt or reduce their operations, were able to access expanded interest free loans and financial assistance. The fund for these measures expired in March 2009 with the end of the 2008/09 financial year.
The impact of the end to this subsidy may be exacerbated by a subsequent 2.5% cut in the Fisheries Agency’s budget for 2009/10. But US$150 million of this budget is provided for energy conservation (e.g. to support fuel efficiency increases) and reform to the industry structure, so fishers may still receive substantial (new) subsidies.
Regarding the declining trend in Japanese seafood consumption, a government white paper expressed concern that this trend needs to be stopped otherwise Japanese fishers and seafood processors could be negatively impacted.
One analyst argues that, while the rise in purchases of ‘budget’ seafood has stimulated general levels of consumption, the industry and its existing distribution networks may not be well placed to offer discounts for long periods. For example, there is high price pressure on bigeye tuna, which consumers will reportedly not buy unless it is priced at ¥198 (US$2.01) per 100 grams or less.
The Chairman of the Japan Skipjack and Tuna Fisheries Cooperatives has defended the current collective fleet size of his members at 200 boats; arguing that ‘we are determined to not lose any more. If the number of boats goes below 200, it will mean an accelerated decline’. He went on to maintain that this fleet size is optimal to access foreign fishing grounds (i.e. through the sharing of costs) and any decline would negatively impact affiliated industries in Japan such as boat yards and processors.
His reaction follows the announcement made by the Fisheries Agency of retiring 12% of Japanese tuna longliners by the end of March.
The Japan Far Seas Purse Seine Fishing Association estimates that the value of its catch for 2008 was 17 percent higher than compared to 2007. The Chairman of the
Association raised concerns that: ‘If disorderly fishing operations continue to increase, overexploitation of the resources will be inevitable, ending in a very dangerous result’.

As an indication of profitability in Japan’s purse seine fleet, the seafood multinational Kyokuyo announced that it has invested in a new ‘integrated’ vessel with a capacity of 1.200 MT, which will increase this firm’s purse seine fleet to four vessels.
In an attempt to mitigate the troubles facing Japan’s longline industry, the Japanese Fisheries Research Agency has undertaken test sales of sashimi swordfish as an alternative to tuna. The results of these experimental sales are not known.
Another emerging opportunity for the Japanese industry, and by extension Japan’s fishing fleets, is export markets. For decades industry has focused primarily on the high-value domestic market, but data released by the Japan Fish Traders Association records a 100% increase in exports in March compared to the same month in 2008.
Now the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is pushing for improved access to the US market to accelerate the boom in exports, including farmed yellowtail (a good species for farming). A push here is to increase the number of HACCP-certified factories in Japan (HACCP plans are a core component of the US seafood import regime).