As coral poaching by Chinese fishermen becomes more common, the Japanese government is set to file a request to amend a bilateral fisheries pact with China. The said pact will allow Japanese coastguard to put up sanctions on poachers.
An official from the Foreign Ministry said, “We consider poaching by Chinese vessels in the seas around Okinawa a grave issue that has had a bad influence upon Okinawan fishermen’s key fishing grounds.” He mentioned that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Japan-China Joint Fisheries Commission last year, “which comprehensively discusses bilateral issues concerning fisheries and the two countries reached an accord to co-operate in eliminating coral poaching.” However, Chinese poachers continue to gather corals off Okinawa even after an agreement has been reached. He noted that, “the number of Chinese vessels carrying out coral poaching is still increasing.” As such, Japan has decided to “bring a resolution to the issue and present the problem to China, including at the next Japan-China Fisheries Commission.”
The Chinese poachers are keen on harvesting a rare kind of red coral, also known in the jewelry industry as precious coral. The said kind could only be found in the waters between the main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima Island. Trawlers and grappling hooks are used by the poachers, which often times cause irreparable damage to the environment of the sea. The coral, when sold, could fetch up to 6 million yen (approx. US$58,600) and since poachers are careless in how they acquire them, conservationists fear that it may become extinct. Japan’s request for amending the pact is targeting a loophole in the original 1997 treaty. While the Japanese Coast Guard has the authority to arrest poachers under their law, the original agreement states that Chinese vessels in waters south of 27 degrees latitude and north of the boundary of the East China Sea are exempt. However, as relationships between the two nations are icy at the moment, a favorable response from China is not assured.
[via South China Morning Post]