The deal allows for continued fishing on a sliding scale based on how well tuna populations are recovering

By Mike Pomranz
Updated September 05, 2017
countries try to save bluefin tuna
Credit: Franco Banfi / Getty Images

We can have our fish and eat it too: That's the takeaway from a new agreement between the two groups tasked with management of Pacific bluefin tuna. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission came to the historic agreement on Friday in Busan, South Korea, at a meeting that included representatives from the United States, Canada, China, South Korea and Japan. Though the population of Pacific bluefin has recently shrunk to just 2.6 percent of its historic levels, the new agreement is targeting to return the coveted fish to 20 percent of its historical size by 2034—a sevenfold increase—while allowing fishing activity at the same time.

The deal allows for a sliding scale on how much bluefin can be caught depending on how well stocks are recovering, as well as an additional commitment to preventing illegally caught bluefin from making it to market. "The really big, exciting thing is they have all agreed to a 20 percent target for recovery," Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts, told NPR. "It's the level at which you can say this population really has a chance… This is a resilient population."

According to The Washington Post, the success of the negotiations relied heavily on Japan's willingness to accept them. Japan eats about 80 percent of the world's bluefin. However, even famed sushi chef Katsumi Honda told the paper its time that something needs to be done. "Tuna stocks are diminishing, and it's a major problem," the master chef at Irifune 3-31-7 Okusawa, Setagaya-kuTokyo told the Post. "Stronger regulations on fishing is the way to go. Prices would most certainly go up, and that would be a big worry for us, but preserving tuna stocks is a good thing for [the] long term."

Meanwhile, the effect of dwindling populations on the fishing industry is also of major concern in Japan. But Toshio Katsukawa, an associate professor at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, pointed out that, even for fisherman, conservation is in their best interest. "If Japan truly wants to protect fishermen, they really should work hard to rebuild the tuna stocks, even if the fishermen had to go through hard times in the process," he said. "After all, it's the fishermen who'd be hardest hit if the tuna were wiped out."