In 1999, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) determined that the world tuna resources were over-exploited and recommended that the number of large-scale tuna long liners should be reduced. Also, another problem was emerging, that is, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) by vessels ignoring conservation and management measures adopted by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) by changing the vessel flag to countries that were not Members of the RFMO (so called “flag of convenience (FOC) vessels”). To address these issues, Japan, a country which had been receiving benefits from tuna resources most, voluntarily reduced 132 large-scale tuna long liners and urged concerned countries and areas to move to elimination of FOC vessels and IUU fishing.
There were about 250 large-scale tuna long liners called FOC vessels at that time. The de facto owners of those FOC vessels were Taiwanese people. The Japanese tuna industrial group urged the Taiwanese tuna industrial group to eliminate the FOC vessels and an agreement was reached between the two groups on a plan to eliminate them. It was necessary, however, that the compensation as well as the cost for scrapping vessels should be paid to the owners of the vessels in order to scrap the vessels which were still operating. The two industrial groups decided that they should bear these costs. For this purpose, the OPRT was established in December 2000 as an organization promoting responsible tuna fisheries including implementation of the FOC vessel scrapping project. The OPRT started selecting the vessels subject to scrapping, implementing the scrap, paying the compensation for the scrap and collecting fees from its Members for the implementation of the scrapping project. A total of 39 FOC vessels were scrapped under this project.
The remaining FOC vessels changed the flag to Members of the RFMOs (normalization) and started fishing in accordance with conservation and management measures of the RFMOs. The OPRT called on main long line fishing countries and fishermen in the world for cooperation. As a result, tuna industrial groups from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, and China joined the OPRT, and most of the large-scale tuna long liners in the world were registered at the OPRT. Also, traders, distributors and consumer organizations in Japan, which is the largest market for sashimi tuna products in the world, joined the OPRT to cooperate for the achievement of the OPRT objectives.
Tuna producers of the world work together with traders, distributors and consumers in Japan, the world’s largest tuna market in the following activities for the sustainable use of the finite tuna resources.
Dr. Jiro SUZUKI is a leading tuna scientist who worked for the National Research Institute of Far Sea Fisheries in Japan for more than 30 years. He participated in the scientific meetings of all tuna RFMOs, and various other meetings related to tuna fisheries. His critical eye for the issues of tuna resources management as a scientist is appreciated internationally as a vivid and constructive voice.