Fishing and Aquaculture Industry in Japan

April 17, 2021Lu Shegay


Fishing and aquaculture, in other words, raising fish for commercial purposes, are some of the widespread activities around the world. Asian countries, in particular, are big consumers of seafood. For instance, in Japan, fish consumption (that includes fish and shellfish products) is 1.3 oz (36.9 g.) per person each day.

Japan is an island country in East Asia located in the northwest Pacific Ocean. Having open access to the ocean, fishing and aquaculture are among the primary sectors of industry in the country. Its coastline is 18 486 mi (29 751 km) and approximately 4.05 million sq. km. of the Exclusive Economic Zone. Over a long period of time, the fishing industry of Japan, nationally and globally, has been focused on the Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo, one of the world’s largest wholesale markets for fresh, frozen, and processed seafood. There are more than 2000 fishing ports in the countries, the major ones are Hachinohe, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, Choshi, Yaizu, etc.

The government agency that is responsible for the management, control, and regulation of the fishing industry is the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. According to this agency, the Basic Fisheries Plan was developed in 2007 to establish long-standing, strong fisheries and fishery practices. The agency consists of four departments, which are Fisheries Policy Planning Department (works on planning policies with regard to fisheries, as well as administrative matters related to the agency), Resources Management Department (works on developing fisheries in the country), Resources Development Department (works on the scientific research part), and Fishing Port Department (works on fishery production-related activities and distribution process of aquatic animal products).

Pile of Fish by Shukhrat Umarov from Pexels


Marine fisheries

In Japan, marine fisheries consist of three categories:

Distant-water fisheries have been declining recently (2006). They yielded 518 000 tonnes worth of JPY 153 900 million (USD 1620 million). Offshore fisheries have too declined having yielded 2 500 000 tonnes worth of JPY 399 600 million (USD 4206).

Acts related to fisheries and their management are regulated by the Fisheries Law of Japan. In 1996, after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Japan established its Total Allowable Catch (TAC) system the next year. According to the latest data, 7 species are subject to the TAC system (saury, Alaska pollack, sardine, jack mackerel, common and spotted mackerel, common squid, and snow crab). Along with the TAC system, Japan introduced the Total Allowable Effort system, which is focused on the regulation of the total level of fishing efforts, i.e, the total number of days of fishing activities.

With regard to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, Japan enacted the Law of Special Measures for Strengthening Conservation and Management of Tuna Resources to control tuna trade that was caught by reflagged fishing vessels or illegally. Moreover, the Organization for the Promotion of Responsible Tuna Fisheries (OPRT) was established in 2000 to combat IUU fishing.

Inland fisheries

Inland fisheries are not popular in the country as all the rivers and lakes are too narrow and fish stocks are limited. However, some species are still caught. In 2007, the production of inland fisheries was 39 000 tonnes. “Inland waters are currently suffering fishery- and ecosystem-related damage due to predation of indigenous fish species by black bass and other alien species. Under such circumstances, the Invasive Alien Species Act was established for the purpose of regulating the raising, carrying, or importing of designated invasive alien species and to eliminate such species. Currently, 13 species of fish and four species of invertebrate are listed as specified alien species.” Read more here.


Fish farming, according to the last data, is practiced in all Japanese prefectures (47). As it was mentioned above, inland fisheries production remains at a low level since there is less interest and demand in it. The main types of inland fisheries are Anguilla japonica, Cyprinus carpio, crucian, Oncorhynchus mykiss, etc. In 2007, the production of inland fisheries was 42 000 tonnes. 

There are four species of aquatic animals raised for commercial purposes. These include marine fish (yellowtail, Seriola quinqueradiata, amberjack and greater amberjack, puffers, red sea bream, black porgy), freshwater fish (eels, kokanee salmon, ayu), shellfish (yesso scallop, oyster, Japanese carpet shell, Japanese scallop, tunicate), and other species (prawn, pearls).

In 2006, it was estimated that 4 360 000 tonnes (86%) of domestic fisheries were done for the purposes of human consumption.

"Aquaculture" by NOAA's National Ocean Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Japan began whaling - hunting whales - back in the 12th century. Heavy hunting started during the 20th century until the moratorium on commercial whaling enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. The moratorium has one exception for hunting whales, which is the scientific research purpose. Japan took the opportunity to use the exception and continue whaling under the clause of the scientific research provision, despite the opposition of a lot of IWC members.

Japan had several programs to hunt whales under the scientific research provision, such as JARPA, JARPA II, JARPN, and JARPN II. The first two programs took place near Antarctica, the last two were conducted in the western North Pacific. In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decided that JARPA II was not being operated for scientific research purposes and ordered Japan to stop whaling. However, Japan resumed its whaling operations under the new program “NEWREP-A.”

In 2017, the Japanese whaling vessel was seen by the Australian organization, after which they immediately covered the carcass of a freshly-killed minke whale. In 2018, Japan officially announced the resumption of commercial whaling within its territorial waters and commercial maritime zones.

Apart from catching whales, Japan also practices dolphin hunting. The well-known one is the Taiji dolphin drive hunt, where dolphins are caught and taken for the meat purposes of dolphinariums. According to the government regulations, it is allowed to catch over 1400 dolphins for slaughter or captivity. Dolphin hunting, and the general cetacean hunting, provide income and food for local people, however, marine mammals are killed and treated cruelly and dolphin meat contains high mercury levels.

"File:Japan Factory Ship Nisshin Maru Whaling Mother and Calf.jpg" by Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Legal framework

There are a few legal instruments that regulate fishing activities in Japan. The main law is the Fisheries Law that provides regulations for fisheries and aquaculture activities/management. The Law does not provide the definition of “aquaculture,” but defines “fishery” as “an industry, which carries on gathering, taking, or culturing of aquatic animals and plants.”

The Law establishes three major categories of fisheries rights, which are joint rights, demarcated rights, and large-scale fixed net fishery rights. Demarcated rights are generally granted for 5 years and aimed at the conduct of aquaculture in certain areas. Demarcated rights in themselves are divided into two categories:

Moreover, the Fisheries Cooperation Association Law provides the clause on responsibilities of fisheries cooperatives that are responsible for exercising the common fishery rights and play a vital role in the Japanese community fisheries management. Another law is the Fisheries Resources Conservation Law, which presents the basic legal framework for the conservation of fisheries resources in the coastal waters of Japan.

With regard to alien species in Japan, the Measures to Be Taken against Invasive Alien Species in Japan were published by the Ministry of Environment, where alien species are those introduced from one area to another within the country. Additionally, the Invasive Alien Species Act was enacted in 2004.

Read more: National Aquaculture Legislation in Japan

Japan is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC). Under international law, it is Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).


Due to its geographical location, the fishing industry and aquaculture are the major parts of the Japanese economy. However, Japan has not been complying with a few international law established obligations. Such actions are strongly opposed by other countries and groups, which makes Japan seem non-cooperative in the international law community. And even though, with regard to dolphin hunting, Japan adopted a new method of catching cetaceans, they are no more humane than the previous one, and there is a long way to go.

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