San Diego fleet records first bluefin catch of 2017

Tuna catch comes days after international regulations of commercial fishery tighten.

SAN DIEGO — Anglers aboard Eclipse Sportfishing reported the first Pacific bluefin tuna catch of 2017 for the San Diego fishing fleet, within hours of officials on the other side of the ocean announcing commercial fisherman breached international fish catch limits of the migratory species.

Eclipse posted a photo of the bluefin tuna catch on its Facebook page Feb. 6. The posting (and catch) occurred around the same time Japan Fishery Agency (JFA) announced it would set and enforce catch limits on Japan’s commercial Pacific bluefin tuna fishery.

Federal and international agencies have been restricting bluefin tuna catches in recent years as the species’ biomass consistently dwindled in size in recent years.

The Center for Biological Diversity, in an application to have Pacific bluefin tuna declared as endangered, cited reports claiming population of the migratory fish declined by more than 97 percent since fishing of the species began.

American anglers have long since argued the restrictive catch limits unfairly target them, as they were not responsible for rapidly dwindling populations of Pacific bluefin tuna. The culprit, they maintained, are foreign commercial fisherman.

The position of American anglers could be validated, at least somewhat, by JFA’s Feb. 3 announcement.

JFA staff stated they are still working to confirm details but reports out of eight prefectures indicate catches of Pacific bluefin tuna by commercial fisherman went unreported, a violation of international agreements.

“According to reports from prefectures, we confirmed new cases of suspicion related to approval as one prefecture (about 1.5 tons), unreported catch amount, etc., in 7 prefectures (about 6.7 tons), and now we continue the investigation,” JFA staff stated. “We are also seeking a correction report on catches. There were no doubt cases for other prefectures.”

Fishermen were caught fishing for tuna without permission, according to news reports about the JFA announcement.

Japanese officials stated they have been attempting to comply with Pacific bluefin tuna regulations governed by an international agreement of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Commission.

However in light of recent illegal fishing activity, the Japanese government will be investigating the recent lack of catch reports and formulating an enforcement plan.

“We asked the prefectural governments [where] there were doubts, etc., to investigate the cause and to consider recurrence prevention measures based on that, and also to continue steadily observing resource management compliance with other prefectures,” JFA staff stated.

“We asked all prefectures … in the coastal area to thoroughly disseminate the approval system of the regional fishery adjustment committee and to reexamine the reporting system of catch by catch monitoring,” JFA staff continued in its released statement.

The JFA order applied to 39 coastal area prefectures.

Japan is one of more than two-dozen countries in the Western Pacific Ocean subject to strict Pacific bluefin catch limits. Other countries include South Korea and Taiwan.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to have Pacific bluefin tuna declared an endangered species is currently being considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

In its petition the Center for Biological Diversity cited a stock assessment finding bluefin tuna to be at 2.6 percent of its unfished size due to overfishing. The petition urged the United States to play a more active role in combating overfishing.

Landings have reported between 11,325 and 29,174 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna bycatch in the past 10 years, compared to a peak of 47,148 metric tons in 1935, according to the Center for Biological Diversity petition.

Most Pacific bluefin bycatches are almost entirely juvenile, which prevents the species from spawning, the petition added.

Pacific bluefin tuna are pelagic, highly migratory and slow growing; the species is known to swim across the Pacific Ocean basin and maintain a body temperature higher than surrounding waters. The average lifespan of a Pacific bluefin tuna is 20 years; sexual maturity is reached between ages 3 and 5.

Anglers aboard Eclipse Sportfishing celebrated the first bluefin tuna catch of 2017 for the San Diego fleet on Feb. 4.

Eclipse retuned to Seaforth Landing Feb. 5. The 25 anglers on board reeled in four red snapper, seven whitefish, nine bonito, 32 rockfish and 71 yellowtail in addition to the bluefin tuna.

The website reported 10,216 bluefin tuna catches at local landings in 2016.

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