Australia's top fisheries manager has revealed Japan illegally took $2 billion worth of southern bluefin tuna, effectively killing the stock commercially.
An investigation into the imperilled fishery found Japanese fishers and suppliers from other countries caught up to three times the Japanese quota each year for the past 20 years, and hid it.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority's managing director, Richard McLoughlin, said it was an enormous international fraud. "Essentially the Japanese have stolen $2 billion worth of fish from the international community, and have been sitting in meetings for 15 years saying they are as pure as the driven snow. And it's outrageous."
Mr McLoughlin was speaking at an ANU seminar in a speech recorded and posted on the internet. The official findings of the inquiry were presented at an international meeting in Canberra in July, but remained confidential.
Mr McLoughlin's revelations raised the prospect yesterday that other fisheries in the Pacific and Indian oceans were pilfered. There were also renewed calls for southern bluefin to be protected under international wildlife law.
One of the world's most expensive fish, southern bluefin migrate around the temperate waters of Australia and grow to about 200 kilograms. A $280 million industry is based on catching the fish in the Great Australian Bight and cage-fattening at Port Lincoln.
The Japanese overcatch was uncovered by Australian industry figures who scrutinised publicly available market documents.
An independent review was ordered after the Federal Government put its concerns to Japan at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. The Japanese also sought a review of Australian southern bluefin tuna farming.
Mr McLoughlin detailed the fraud on August 1 during a wide-ranging speech on national fisheries reform at a lunchtime seminar to the Australian National University's Crawford School of Economics and Government.
"It's just been revealed that … on a 6000-tonne national quota, Japan's been catching anything between 12,000 and 20,000 tonnes for the last 20 years, and hiding it. And has probably killed that stock … And that's one of our major fisheries in Australia."
At the end of the seminar he was asked how it happened. "Largely it's [because] the Japanese only ever allowed Japanese observers on Japanese boats. And essentially it was just plain fraud.
"There were many thousands of tonnes of bluefin a year that were coming in unreported, or were being caught in Taiwanese or Thai boats that were coming in through the back door of Japanese business houses; that were going onto the marketplace recorded as big eye tuna, or you know, northern bluefin or something like that. So it has been an enormous international fraud … [discussion of which] has reached all sorts of levels of government at the present time."
Asked what the solution was, Mr McLoughlin said attempts had been made for years to put satellite monitoring systems on the Japanese vessels. "They won't have a bar of it," he said.
Legal catch limits for southern bluefin have been steady at about 14,080 tonnes in recent years, despite indications the fish stock is still in dire straits.
But it is a relatively tiny portion of the Japanese appetite for tuna. The country imports about 650,000 tonnes of tuna annually, much of it from the Pacific and Indian oceans.
"This is a defining case," said Glenn Sant, the Oceania director of the global wildlife trade monitoring organisation, Traffic. "People can no longer believe what they are told. What we now have to have is transparency."
At least until the early 1990s there was substantial under-reporting or non-reporting of catches in the South Pacific, said Sandra Tarte, of the University of the South Pacific.
The findings also raised a red flag over the Japanese whale fishery, said Humane Society International's Nicola Beynon. "Any countries that are contemplating lifting the moratorium and letting Japan go whaling must be concerned about the probability that it will be misreported as well," she said.
The Bureau of Rural Sciences said the most recent estimate by Australian scientists of southern bluefin's parental biomass - the quantity of adult tuna - was that it stood at as little as 4 per cent of its original size.
Ms Beynon said the commission had proved itself inept many times over.
And I thought the world would wake up to how bad a world neighbor the Japanese are after their 'clear-cutting' (sorry, mixing metaphors) of the Sea of Cortez (birthing grounds and nursery for the California grey whale):
Filed under: Japan, environment, ocean, fish