The multi-nation fisheries body that monitors most of the Pacific Ocean has recommended cutting the catch of juvenile bluefin tuna to half of its average level in 2002-2004, a move that conservationists say is only an initial step towards saving the endangered species.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission announced the decision yesterday following an annual meeting in Fukuoka in western Japan.
The commission, a grouping of more than 20 nations which monitors the western two-thirds of the Pacific, also endorsed catch limits for adult bluefin and set a 10-year target of rebuilding its population to 8 per cent of its original size.
Japanese eat 80 per cent of the world's bluefin tuna, a sushi mainstay, and demand elsewhere in the world has kept growing. At a ritual new year auction, the top price for the fish jumped to about US$7,000 a kilogram last year but was a more reasonable US$300 per kilogram this year.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, which have supported efforts to save the species, said the measures were encouraging but only a first step towards saving the bluefin tuna, which has been decimated by overfishing.
"There must be a strong recovery and rebuilding plan put in place for Pacific bluefin across its full range," said Amanda Nickson, director of global tuna conservation for Pew.
"Countries have the responsibility to agree on a strong recovery plan that does more than simply move the population from severely depleted to slightly less seriously depleted," she said.
The fisheries commission left a decision on longer-term efforts for later. Nations which manage the eastern Pacific bluefin fisheries are due to discuss their management plans for the species next month, and a final decision on catch limits for the western Pacific is expected in December.
A stock assessment by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the Northern Pacific Ocean found the levels of bluefin in 2012 at near their lowest ever of just 4 per cent of original stocks.
Most of the fish caught are juveniles that have not had a chance to reproduce, the scientific body said.
Cutting the catch in half would reduce Japan's annual catch of juvenile bluefins to about 4,000 tonnes from next year, out of a fisheries-wide catch of 4,725 tonnes.