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Southern bluefin tuna & Japan

International common property problems (Greenhouse gas emission, ozone use, pelagic fishery harvesting, biodiversity conservation destruction) have the game-theoretic structure of a (repeated) Prisoner’s Dilemma.

It is in the interests of all parties involved in the use of common property resources to reach an international agreement restricting use of the shared resource. But, given such an agreement, it can be in the interests of each party to cheat on the agreement by taking advantage of the conservationist actions of others to use more of the stock than agreed to. In the case of a fishery, each country has incentives to harvest more fish than agreed to while other countries comply with the international agreement. Such countries are cheaters. Moreover, other countries may have long-term reasons for complying – they may seek long-term solutions rather than short-term gains from cheating – these are the compliers.

In the early 1980s, Australia, Japan and New Zealand set up the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) to manage that overexploited fishery. The nations also agreed on a quota system to prevent further depletion of tuna stocks, which had been damaged by overfishing. World stocks of SBT are critically endangered.

But a report by the CCSBT says Japan has never stood by this deal. It seems Japan has caught up to up to 3.3 times the legal quota under the deal and hidden this obverfishing. The fish are being caught on Chinese or Thai boats and are then going through the ‘back door’ into Japan where they are recorded as species like big eye tuna or northern blue fin before going to market. Reuters sumnarises the recent CCSBT claims:

‘.. on a 6,000-tonne national quota, Japan’s been catching anything between 12,000 and 20,000 tonnes for the last 20 years, and hiding it. And that has probably killed the stock’.

The claim is that Japan has stolen at least $2 billion (and up to $5 billion) worth of fish from the international community and ‘have been sitting in meetings for 15 years saying that they’re pure as the driven snow’.

The allegations have angered the fisherpeople of other countries and provides increased incentives for the latter to cheat and distrust the Japanese in formulating future agreements. Moreover, this distrust will spill over into distrust of Japan on other global environmental issues such as the blatant lies Japan tells about its scientific whaling efforts.

I heard a TV report that news of the Japanese deception was leaked during a classroom presentation by an academic at the Australian National University. If I can get more details I’ll update this. For the moment one can only reflect on the stupidity, myopia and poor international citizenship shown by these Japanese actions. Longer-term it is in the interestts of a seafood-dependent country like Japan to conserve this stock.

1 comment to Southern bluefin tuna & Japan

  • patrick

    This news didn’t surprise me at all.

    Environmentally, Japan has a buy now pay later approach that is staggering in its rapacity, and their respect for international conventions regarding the environment mirrors the US’.

    On the birght side, even though there are no more southern tuna left (and no more atlantic salmon, it’s all farmed, and no more cod…), this will hopefully be a bit of a killer to their whaling aspirations…

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