Japan's summer saury fishing likely skipped amid Russia tensions

Japan's early summer saury fishing expedition in the northern Pacific is expected to be skipped for a third year because of bad catches and increasing fears Russia could seize Japanese fishing boats amid tensions over Ukraine.

A Tokyo-based saury fishing cooperative said Thursday that no fishing boat is likely to take part in an annual fishing expedition on high seas in the North Pacific Ocean that runs from May to July, citing the risks of sailing through Russia's exclusive economic zone.

Japanese fishing boats usually sail within the zone extending 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometers, from the Russian coastline to reach their saury fishing area.

But Russia has reacted angrily to economic sanctions imposed by Japan and other countries over its invasion of Ukraine. "Many fishermen are worried, not knowing what could happen because of the current international situation," the group said.

Even if the ships sailed around the waters instead of through them, the expedition would not be profitable because of soaring fuel costs and likely poor catches, the group added.

The group also said that although saury catches in early summer have mainly been sold at sea to a Russian processing vessel, trade cannot be done this time because the ship is under repair.

The continuing crisis in Ukraine has created concerns that the risks will persist during the main saury fishing expeditions that usually take place from August.

"Under the current situation, it is unclear whether or not we will be able to continue saury fishing," said Kohei Oishi, managing director of the cooperative.

Early summer saury fishing began tentatively in 2016 in response to the ban on salmon and trout drift net fishing in Russia's exclusive economic zone and became a full-scale operation in 2019. But the fishing has been suspended for two years since 2020.

Poor saury catches have continued for years. Japan's 2021 saury catch was 38 percent smaller than the previous year's at 18,291 tons, marking a record low for the third consecutive year.

© Kyodo News