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Japan To Reduce South Pacific Driftnet Fleet

September 19, 1989

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan has notified countries in the South Pacific that it will cut driftnet fishing fleets to one-third of last year’s record level in the tuna-rich area, officials said today.

Fifteen countries in the South Pacific Forum demanded in July that Japan and Taiwan entirely ban fishing with the enormous nets, calling it ″indiscriminate, irresponsible and destructive.″

Japan said then it would continue to permit driftnet fishing for two years while researching its effect on fish stocks, which fisheries experts in the region said could be depleted within two years. Taiwan has not responded to the demands to end driftnet fishing in the South Pacific.

Today, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the Fishery Agency notified Southern Pacific countries including Australia, New Zealand and Fiji that Japan is to reduce the number of driftnet vessels in the season starting in November to a maximum of 20 per year, the level before the number shot up to about 60 driftnetters.

Fishing with driftnets, which are also called gillnets, is strongly disputed in the North Pacific as well.

The United States has negotiated with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to limit and monitor use of the long nets which environmentalists call ″walls of death″ because they snare all kinds of marine life.

Driftnet fishing uses nets up to 50 miles long. It has been condemned as strip mining of the seas and blamed for the destruction of sea mammals, birds and fish other than the target, southern albacore tuna.

The United States has complained that driftnet fishing in unauthorized North Pacific waters was hurting salmon runs in Alaska, Washington state and Oregon.

During the 1988-89 fishing year, the 60 Japanese driftnet vessels in the South Pacific caught some 10,000 tons of tuna, said a Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In comparison, Australia caught just 200 to 400 tons by pole-and-line fishing, New Zealand 5,200 tons by trawling, and the United States fetched 3,700 tons, the official added.

Kentaro Iwasa, spokesman for an association of pole-and-line tuna fishers, said the government’s decision should be a step toward eliminating driftnet fishing.

″Some of our fishing boats got into trouble when the boat’s propeller got caught in a driftnet where driftnet fishing was prohibited,″ he said, ″We’ve been urging driftnet fishers and the government that hazardous driftnet fishing should be eliminated.″

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Taizo Watanabe told reporters that each driftnet vessel will have to report its catch.

Japan will send a patrol vessel to police Japanese driftnetters and a research vessel to the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, for biological research, he said. One representative from the region can participate in the research team as an observer.

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