By Ryuji Kudo
A record 16 Chinese vessels were seized in 2014 after being caught poaching coral in Japanese waters for the lucrative jewelry market in their home country, the Japan Coast Guard said.
Eleven of the vessels were poaching coral around the Ogasawara island chain, about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, or the Izu island chain, about 600 km south of the capital, the Coast Guard said Feb. 18.
The 2014 figure topped the previous record of 14 Chinese vessels seized in 2000, most of them trawlers in the Sea of Japan. Such statistics were first compiled in 1977.
“We will continue to remain alert for coral poaching in cooperation with the Fisheries Agency and the Tokyo metropolitan government,” Yuji Sato, commandant of the Japan Coast Guard, told reporters on Feb. 18.
Chinese coral poaching vessels started appearing around the Ogasawara island chain in mid-September 2014, and their numbers topped 200 by the end of October.
By the end of December, the Japan Coast Guard had arrested 11 Chinese skippers and one crew member in the area. The figure includes the Oct. 5 arrest of a Chinese captain on suspicion of violating the law regulating fishing operations by foreigners. His vessel was operating off the Ogasawara chain’s main Chichijima island.
Elsewhere, five Chinese skippers were arrested off Kagoshima Prefecture and Okinawa Prefecture.
Of the 17 people arrested, seven were indicted and 10 were released on bail.
In November 2014, the central government revised the law regulating fishing operations by foreigners and the law on the exercise of the sovereign right in fishing. The maximum fine was raised to 30 million yen ($253,000) for foreign fishermen operating illegally in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The Japan Coast Guard said Chinese coral poaching vessels have not been spotted around the Ogasawara chain since two vessels were confirmed in Japanese territorial waters on Jan. 22.