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Latest update : 2010-04-19

Blufin tuna fishing continues in Japan

The Japanese cannot get enough of this endangered fish. Despite international pressure, Japan has managed to hold off a ban on bluefin tuna fishing. From the markets of Tokyo to the traditional fishing ports, France 24 investigates a country torn between ecological concerns and the tastes of its consumers.

At the end of March, after an intense lobbying campaign, Japan successfully prevented a ban on the Mediterranean and East Atlantic bluefin tuna trade. The challenge was huge, since the country consumes 80% of the bluefin tuna caught worldwide.

This trade is mainly conducted by mass retailers. They buy huge amounts of bluefin tuna, which is stored in freezers until it is commercialised. These stocks allow retailers to guarantee steady supply and low prices. This is how bluefin tuna changed from a delicacy into a common meal.

Still, this situation does not benefit everyone in Japan. In order to cut costs, big companies and mass retailers trade directly with industrial fishing companies. Mass retailers buy huge quantities from these producers and then sell the fish at low prices, so they are able to move enormous volumes of tuna. Growing competition from mass retailers is threatening local fish markets’ bluefin tuna middlemen. Fishermen are also threatened. Those using traditional fishing methods, such as trolling lines, cannot compete with large-scale net fishing. The price they are offered for their fish also declines and so do their incomes.

But Japanese authorities are also working on long-term solutions. Worried by the country’s low food sufficiency ratio, they have invested in research for years. This is how a Japanese university became the first to develop completely farm-raised bluefin tuna: scientists there raise eggs of farmed tuna. This could become an alternative to large-scale fishing, which is accused of depleting bluefin tuna resources. But for now, this programme is having trouble growing fast enough to meet Japan’s huge appetite for bluefin tuna...

By Nathalie TOURRET , Julien ALRIC

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