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The “Sushi War” In Brazilian Waters Over Tuna Brazil, August 28, 12

Between May and August, a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean off the shore of Brazil transforms into a rich tuna hub. Local fishermen are losing the turf war, however, as they say the Japanese are invading their country’s northeast waters and devastating the tuna stock.
One experienced captain says they are catching less than a third of what they were catching 15 years ago, and the tuna that they are catching are smaller in size. The poor local harvest is the result of an initiative implemented last year by Atlantic Tuna, a company based in Rio Grande do Norte, and Japanese businessmen. The partnership, called the Brazil/Japan Tuna Project, set out to create over 2,000 new jobs, directly and indirectly, through the operation of 16 Japanese vessels in Brazilian waters.
Last year, 10,000 tons of tuna were caught in Brazilian waters. Atlantic Tuna exported 2,000 tons at a value of USD 9 million to Japan, where tuna fish is highly prized for sushi and sashimi. The Tsukiji market in Tokyo, for instance, sold a 593-pound tuna last year for a record USD 736,000.
The Japanese are equipped with modern vessels that fiercely outstrip the native Brazilian boats. They measure up to 60 meters in length and are capable of storing 200 tons of fish at –60º C. They can stay at sea, fishing for three months at a time, with their longline hooks that are longer and greater in number. Equipped with 4000 longline hooks each – compared to Brazil’s 800 – their hooks reach the middle of tuna schools at depths of 200 to 400 meters. The smaller, Brazilian boats – maximum 24 meters in length – have hooks that reach only 100 meters below sea and are forced to shuttle back to the port to unload their catches because they lack freezer containers.
The outlook for local fishermen remains bleak because Brazilian legislation was relaxed to develop the project. In exchange for 85-90% of sales, the Japanese vessels are licensed to fish indefinitely, instead of the maximum three-year limit, and they are allowed to land in foreign ports, which further reduces production and jobs in onshore processing. The vessels are also exempt from the requirement to fill their crews with at least two-thirds Brazilians.
One oceanographer likens the situation to the poor African countries that sell fishing licenses for foreign aid. This should not be the case for Brazil, he says.
Since May, three Japanese ships have been fishing in the Rio Grande region: the Kinsai Maru 38, Kinei Shoei Maru Maru 108 and 7. In early August, the Kinsai Maru 38 docked in the port of Natal, having already shipped the majority of 170 tons of tuna fish to Japan. In comparison, the Gera 8, a small local boat, delivered five tons to the Ceagesp fish market in Sao Paulo.