For those who enjoy eating raw fish, there is no greater delicacy than dark red fatty tuna. Choice cuts of the fish command luxury prices not only in Japan, but increasingly throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo that over-fishing of prized tuna species is prompting international action to cut quotas.
For Japan's sushi restaurants and their customers, the most prized dishes could soon become more expensive and scarce.
Long a delicacy in Japan, the bluefin tuna, a two-and-a-half meter long fish, also is a popular dish in the Mediterranean region. Now it is in vogue worldwide, with fans of Japanese food eating bluefin raw as sashimi or atop vinegared rice as sushi.
But fishermen, environmentalists and marine biologists worry that over-fishing could push some tuna species toward extinction. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas is cutting the quota for bluefin.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission's science committee is recommending a quota cut for less expensive bigeye tuna, also known as "ahi" or "mebachi."
Here in Japan, the world's top tuna importer, sushi chefs are lamenting the new quotas.
Yuji Namiki, the owner of the Sen-nori restaurant, a Tokyo sushi bar, says he will resist raising prices for tuna because it is a hassle to print new menus. He predicts that many sushi restaurants, known for their high quality tuna, will resist increasing prices - even if it means a loss - so as not to drive away customers to competitors.
Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says Tokyo wants to be a leader in promoting marine conservation. But he acknowledges Japan, as the world's top tuna importer, needs to do more to prevent its own fishermen from violating the catch limits.
"It was regrettable that some of the illegal activities were actually conducted by the Japanese fishing industry, when it comes to bluefin tuna," he said. "The Japanese government is going to encourage all engaged in fishing the tuna to faithfully follow the set norm."
The new quota cuts do not go far enough for some. Environmental organizations and the United States government asked the Atlantic group to impose even more severe restrictions on bluefin catches. Some environmentalists argue that even with the cuts, some tuna species remain in danger of collapse.
Concerns about over-fishing go beyond tuna. A two-day meeting began on Wednesday in Jakarta to heighten regional cooperation on the problem. Officials from 13 countries, including Japan and China, are at the meeting, which aims to develop a regional network to monitor fish stocks and illegal fishing.
Officials warn that unless there is better international cooperation, illegal fishing controlled by crime syndicates will increase, and push more species toward extinction.