On board the Hakuo Maru, a fishery inspection vessel of the Fisheries Agency, I could see the green fishing light through the darkness in the East China Sea.
Through binoculars the letters on the vessel, about 120 kilometers southwest of the Goto island chain off Nagasaki, could be read: CHINA.
It was a fishing vessel carrying a net-hauling machine and a small fishing boat.
Early in October I was aboard the Hakuo Maru to watch the movements of Chinese fishing vessels carrying a new type of net called a “huwang” (tiger net).
The number of such vessels has increased sharply to 300 in the past few years, a Fisheries Agency official said.
The new-type net, measuring about 1,200 meters, has a 150-meter purse-like portion, called a tiger net for its shape, which resembles the face of a tiger.
The use of the new method enables fishing vessels to capture large schools of fish in one fell swoop with fewer crew members.
At 4:50 a.m. on Oct. 6, the net was pitched into the water from the main vessel and pulled around the school of fish to encircle it, then pulled on board the fishing vessel. Fishing lasted only for an hour.
During that time, the small boat with an underwater light remained in its original location.
With the new method not requiring the securing of the top rope, like fastening a laundry bag, the number of crew members needed is cut in half to that using the conventional method, a Fisheries Agency official said.
While conventional round haul net fishing targeting mackerel and horse mackerel operates with 50 crew members and five boats, including a lighting boat, a “tiger net ship” needs just 10 fishermen and a fish carrier, which is shared by other fishing vessels.
A crew member of the Hakuo Maru videotaped the Chinese fishermen at work and wrote down the registration number of their ships.
The Hakuo Maru radar showed the fishing ground was located only eight kilometers outside the Japanese exclusive economic zone, an area under Japanese jurisdiction. Fishing took place in what is called the “midline maritime zone,” where Japanese and Chinese ships are allowed to operate freely.
According to the agency, most of the ships are based in China’s Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.
Hakuo Maru Captain Takaaki Hashimoto stayed on guard.
“We cannot tell if or when they might enter Japanese territory,” he said. “It’s important to show that we will keep watching.”
'HUWANG' SHIPS AFFECTING JAPANESE CATCH
Cheaper personnel and fuel costs have fueled a ship building boom in the new Chinese fishing vessels from two years ago.
Those related to the Japanese fisheries industry are deeply concerned about the huwang ships, which have increased in number from zero to 300 in just a few years.
According to Fukuoka-based Nihon Enyo Makiami Gyogyo Kyodo Kumiai, an association of 20 deep-sea round haul net fishing fleets, the total haul of mackerel between September and November in 2011 was 15,000 tons, falling by 65 percent from the average catch in the previous decade. It dropped further in 2012.
“I cannot think of any reason other than the sharp increase in huwang ships,” said Makoto Hotai, manager of the association.
Fishing methods such as these could damage the fish, affecting sales.
But Chinese fishermen are seemingly unconcerned.
In response to a Japanese warning that the huwang ships could cause a depletion of sea resources, Chinese authorities said that they would not approve registration of newly built ones. But they have not identified the number of and catch by huwang ships on the grounds that the definition of these ships has not been established.
Ryuji Yukami, a researcher at the Fisheries Research Agency, an arm of the Fisheries Agency, said, “We asked Chinese researchers to provide accurate information, but we haven’t heard anything.”
CONSUMPTION OF FISH SPREADS IN CHINA
The main reason for boosting the number of huwang ships in the East China Sea is the increasing demand for fish in China.
Per capita annual consumption of fish in the country in 2009 tripled to 31 kilograms from 20 years ago, which is about half that of Japan. However, that means that China, with a population of 1.3 billion, consumed 30 percent of the world’s fish intake.
Mackerel caught by huwang ships mostly have been consumed by people living on the coast of northern China.
Lou Xiaobo, a professor of fishing economy at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, predicts that will change.
“Consumption (of fish) will increase in inland areas once a cold chain (a temperature-controlled supply chain) is established,” Lou said.
Under the Japan-China fisheries pact, the huge sea area where Japanese and Chinese exclusive economic zones overlap is not clearly defined and includes the “midline maritime zone.”
While huwang ships are said to have been illegally converted from other ships, which have been registered under different fishing methods, the Japanese side cannot interfere with the vessels, as long as they are operating in the midline maritime boundary.
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