Asia Briefing: Nations to change their tuna-fishing policy due to scarcity

Tue, Sep 10, 2013, 01:00

Fish is an essential part of the food culture in Asia.

In China, the world’s largest fishing nation, tanks sit outside restaurants and diners can choose their favourites.

Thai fish curries and Malaysian prawn sambal are part of the staple diet, while fish paste is the basis for much of the cuisine in Vietnam and other parts of south-east Asia.

In Asia, fish provide 30 per cent of the animal protein in a typical diet, while millions in the region, especially among the poor, make their livelihood or supplement their incomes in fishing or relating industries.

Bluefin tuna
Of the 126 million tonnes of fish available for human consumption in 2009, consumption in Asia accounted for two-thirds, according to data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Within the region, tuna is one of the most sought-after fish species, and is on the verge of becoming dangerously scarce after four decades of overfishing.

Environmentalists have been keen to cut back on catches, especially of species such as young bluefin tuna.

It’s a tough call, balancing the needs to keep local people employed, and indeed fed, while keeping fishing sustainable. Asia Pacific region’s tuna industry directly employs more than six million people.

Last week, Asia-Pacific fishing nations agreed to cut catches of bluefin tuna aged three years or younger in 2014 by 15 per cent of the average between 2002 and 2004. Environmentalists reckon the accord does not go far enough.

The agreement came after nine countries, including the US, China, South Korea and Taiwan, met in Fukuoka, western Japan, for a meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The US had proposed a 25 per cent reduction, but most participants, concerned about the impact on local fishing industries, agreed on the 15 per cent cut proposed by Japan.

Sustainable industry
If current trends continue, the ability of reef systems to provide food for coastal populations in Asia and the Pacific is predicted to fall by 50 per cent by 2050, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Wildlife Fund said in joint report last year.

“A sustainable fishery industry can help replenish the tuna stock while at the same time guarantee food security and the livelihood of coastal communities in Asia and the Pacific,” the ABD says in a report.