There has been protest in Japan over a proposed ban on international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, a day after the European Union agreed to back the plan.
Wholesalers held a protest at Tokyo’s fish market, while a top official said Japan was likely to opt out of any ban.
The EU agreed on Wednesday to back the proposal during next week’s meeting of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
But Japanese opponents say it would hit the country’s massive tuna market hard.
Bluefin tuna, which is used in sushi and sashimi, is highly prized in Japan.
But a recent scientific assessment concluded that stocks have declined by 80% in the past 40 years.
Nations will consider whether to suspend fishing – until stocks recover – at the Cites meeting opening this weekend in Qatar.
Japan has previously indicated that it will opt out of any trade ban, as it is entitled to do under Cites rules – and its top government spokesman said that nothing had changed.
“The Washington Convention [or Cites] is basically to protect endangered species, but I personally doubt that bluefin tuna is currently facing such a situation,” Hirofumi Hirano said.
“Japan will claim its unchanged position that resource control should take place” instead of a trade ban, he said.
At Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo – the world’s biggest – a group of traders protested against the proposed ban.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss bluefin tuna in the forum for endangered species, because you can preserve the species with appropriate resource control,” said Tadao Ban, president of the tuna traders’ association at the market.
“We want to protect Japanese food culture and to prevent tuna from disappearing as a food source,” he said.
Japan consumes about three-quarters of the bluefin tuna caught worldwide, and imports large amounts from France, Italy and Spain.
Countries accepting a Cites suspension would not be allowed to export bluefin caught in their waters, and would not be able to fish in international waters.
The EU is backing exemptions for traditional fishers and deferring the ban for a year. The US prefers an immediate suspension of fishing.
Japan is not opposed to bluefin conservation, but believes such matters should be regulated by regional fisheries bodies such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat).