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Plummeting Tuna Volumes Cause Japan’s Seafood Import Drop

Japan’s frozen yellowfin imports plummeted a dramatic 44 percent in August 2013 compared to August 2012. Volume dropped from 4,026 tons to just 2,228 tons for the same month year on year.

Imports of bigeye tuna by Japan followed a similar trend, with a 29 percent fall for frozen bigeye when comparing August numbers for 2012 and 2013. Fresh bigeye imports also took a hit, declining 27 percent from 2,117 tons to 1,525 tons.

A 12.3 percent fall in Japan’s seafood imports as a whole from August 2012 to August 2013 are thought to be fueled by the drastic decline in the imports of these two tuna species.

Yellowfin and bigeye tuna are important products for the lucrative Japanese sushi market. The tuna is often hyper-frozen instantly to temperatures as low as -16 degrees Celsius to preserve the freshness of the tuna. In August 2012 alone, Japan imported as much as 14,774 tons of frozen bigeye. This figure dropped to 10,487 tons in August this year.

Concerns surrounding the stock status of both bigeye and yellowfin have grown due to high by-catch numbers of juvenile tuna caught from fishing on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has made strong efforts to reduce the amount of fishing on FADs by tuna fleets fishing in the Pacific Ocean.

A whole 50 percent of the world’s canned tuna is caught using FADs by vessels catching skipjack. The by-catch of juvenile bigeye tuna from this activity in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean was just less than 80,000 tons in 2010, and has risen severely from around 3,000 tons before the beginning of the FAD boom in 1980.

Declining stock levels of these tuna species can affect the ability for tuna fleets to catch adult yellowfin and bigeye, leaving less catch available for global exportation.