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Japanese Defend Use of Drift Nets Graphic Planned

October 29, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s voracious appetite for seafood is making waves once again as the world moves closer to a ban on fishing with drift nets.

Officials of the Japanese fishing industry claim the environmental effects of the nets are exaggerated by ″emotional″ conservationists in the United States.

Opponents have described drift nets as ″curtains of death,″ a kind of maritime strip mining that kills all life in its path, including marine mammals and sea birds.

In Japan, however, ″we see absolutely no reason for this to be prohibited,″ said Toru Morikawa of the Japan Fisheries Association.

″We have been vastly misrepresented,″ said Koji Imura, chairman of the Japan Squid Driftnet Fishery Association.

Japan’s drift-net fishing industry consists of about 400 ships and 10,000 fishermen. Most operate in the North Pacific in search of squid, a common food in Japan.

They run lines of 10 or more drift nets. The nets are two to three miles long and are placed at least a half-mile apart, Imura said.

A total ban on their use would cost thousands of fishermen their jobs and seriously damage squid-processing companies, he said, estimating the total loss at about $770 million a year.

In 1990, just 10 percent of the drift-net ships killed 1,758 whales and dolphins, 30,464 sea birds, 253,288 tuna, 81,956 blue sharks and more than 3 million other fish they were not trying to catch, according to a U.S. government study.

The Japanese fishing industry argues that more studies are needed to determine whether drift nets cause excessive destruction.

″High seas drift-net fishing, like other fishing methods, can be managed under appropriate conservation and management methods,″ including subsurface nets that do not harm birds, the fisheries association said in a statement.

It said the U.S. position ignores American shark drift nets and salmon gill nets used off California, which the association holds responsible for drowning thousands of sea lions every year.

The issue is to be taken up in November at the United Nations, which already has voted to ban environmentally destructive nets next summer. Its resolution would allow the continued use of drift nets if safety measures were taken.

American critics of drift nets say the UN resolution, which Japan supported, is too weak.

Janet Mullins, an assistant secretary of state, said in September the United States would make a ″major diplomatic effort″ to achieve a permanent ban on large-scale, high seas drift nets by July 1992.

The Senate has approved a bill that would require the president to impose trade sanctions on countries that use drift nets after June 30, 1992. Besides Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are the main users of drift nets.

In October, President Bush postponed for 90 days a decision on whether to impose sanctions on Taiwan and South Korea for illegal fishing with drift nets.

Many Japanese see the U.S. activity against drift nets as political revenge for Japan’s huge trade surplus, and argue that American meat-eaters have no right to trample on Japan’s preference for fish.

″There are a lot of cars on the road creating air pollution,″ Morikawa said, ″but no one is calling for them to be banned.″

The average Japanese eats 80 pounds of seafood a year, compared with 15 for an American, say figures from the government Fisheries Agency.

″From time immemorial, the people of Japan have depended heavily on marine resources for food and have developed their own unique food culture,″ Morikawa said. ″Such a historical background cannot be abruptly eradicated.″

Concern for Japan’s food culture was fanned in September when the United States considered seeking protection for bluefin tuna under the Washington Convention, which regulates international trade in endangered species.

Raw bluefin is a favorite sushi dish.

An article in The New York Times led a Japanese newspaper to declare: ″New York Times Anti-Sushi Campaign, Tuna’s Days Are Numbered.″

A popular magazine, Shukan Bunshun, quoted this conversation at a fictional sushi bar:

″Hey, buddy. Did you know that big-deal newspaper in New York, the what- you-call-it, ran some crazy article about how we’re wiping out tuna by eating sushi? We put up with the stuff about whales, but enough is enough.″

Drift nets are expected to be on the agenda when signatories of the Washington Convention meet in Kyoto, Japan, in March.

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