The Japanese government has objected to a decision by CITES, the convention regulating the international trade of wild plants and animals, to regulate the trade of five shark species – including hammerhead, oceanic whitetips and porbeagles, which are threatened by overfishing.

Japan tried to justify its stance by insisting that the "control of resources should be done by existing regulatory organisations," but I've been witness to enough of these organisations' meetings to know that Tokyo’s reasoning is entirely flawed.

Caught Shark on Japanese Longliner

There are several international organisations tasked with the regulation of fisheries that target tuna and sharks. These include the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).

They hold meetings every year, which normally end in deadlock with very limited achievements for conservation and management, due to disagreement between member countries that prioritise preservation of fishing resources and those that seek short-term gain for their fleets.

The failures of these institutions and others tasked with management explains why the five species of shark were proposed for a 'CITES reservation listing' in the first place.

Greenpeace attends many annual meetings of these regulatory organisations and at the WCPFC meeting I have seen the Japanese government take a lead role in the group of countries that place more importance on short-term interest than on regulation.

In response to proposals aimed at achieving sustainable fishing based on the precautionary principle, Japan uses its veto (often in collaboration with fishing powers such as South Korea, China or Taiwan). Instead, it proposes changes that take the bite out of proposals or question science and don’t follow the precautionary principle. Often, efforts to achieve meaningful conservation end in vain.

At the IOTC meeting in May this year, for example, the Japan objected to the proposed protection plans for sharks, including hammerheads.

The Japanese government has also rejected the listing of whales agreed by CITES as well as that of sharks, partly due to concerns that other fish species might also be regulated. Nevertheless, if tuna or eels were to disappear from the Japanese market, this would likely be due to overfishing and illegal fishing rather than trade regulation.

Since Japan is the world’s biggest consumer of marine products, its fishing and distribution industries are worried by overfishing. The Japanese government ignores this fact though and instead sees international regulation as the enemy that endangers its market.

I believe that Japan, the birthplace of the worldwide sushi boom, should be a pioneer in the domain of sustainable seafood, and take action for the international regulation of marine products and their trade.

By objecting to the CITES listing, however, the Japanese government is abandoning the protection of an endangered species and every Japanese citizen with a stake in the survival of the fishing industry, including the country's seafood-loving consumers.

Wakao Hanaoka, oceans campaigner, Greenpeace Japan.