Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


October 2005


Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture


Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación






377 801 km2

Shelf area (to 200 m):

approximately 233 000 km2

Exclusive Economic Zone:

approximately 4 050 000 km2

Population (2004):

127.8 million

Length of coastline:

approximately 29 751 km

GDP (2004):

US$ 4.6 trillion

GDP per caput (2004):

US$ 37 180

Gross value of agricultural output (2004):

1.4% of GDP


Commodity balance (2003):





Total supply

per caput supply


‘000 ton live weight


Fish for direct human consumption

4 804

3 922


8 390


Fish for animal feed and other purposes


1 829


2 590



Estimated employment (2003):


Coastal fishery + aquaculture sector:

209 461

Offshore and distant water fishery:

28 910

Gross value of fisheries output (2003)
(at ex-vessel prices, including marine culture sector):

US$ 14 463 million

Trade (2003):


Value of imports:

US$ 12 623 644 000

Value of exports:

US$ 952 419 000


Marine fisheries

Marine fisheries are the most important sector of Japan's fishing industry. Japan consists of numerous islands, with an enormous and complex coastline. This geographical characteristic has allowed various kinds of fisheries development.

For statistical convenience, Japanese marine fisheries are divided into three categories: distant-water fisheries (operated mainly on the high seas, as well as under bilateral agreements in the EEZs of foreign countries); offshore fisheries (operated mainly in the domestic EEZ, as well as under bilateral agreements in the EEZs of neighbouring countries); and coastal fisheries (operated mainly in waters adjacent to fishing villages).

Of the three categories, distant-water fisheries and offshore fisheries have been declining: the former yielded 602 000 t (worth ¥ 166 600 million or about US$ 1 500 million), and the latter yielded 2 543 000 t (worth ¥ 369 200 million or about US$ 3 356 million) in 2003. In contrast, coastal fisheries have maintained a stable supply of marine products, yielding 1 577 000 t (worth ¥ 500 900 million or about US$ 4 554 million) in 2003.

In terms of the number of workers, coastal fisheries dominate, with about 209 461 people involved, or 88% of the total (238 371) in 2003. Compared to 10 years ago, this is a decline of about 39 000. The number of vessels in 2002 was 230 989. Compared to 10 years ago, this is a decline of about 35 000.


Mariculture plays an important role in seafood supply, producing 1 277 000 t in 2003 (worth ¥ 447 600 million or about US$ 3 947 million). The main products from mariculture are seaweeds, oysters, scallops, yellowtail and seabream. Production has been broadly flat for the last 10 years, after reaching a peak in 1994. This is due to the limited capacity of farms, the decreasing fish price and the excessive supply of cultured fish. In order to secure a sustainable level of output, it is important to apply proper management in respect of the quantities of fry to be released as well as the type and quantity of feed used. It is essential that mariculture be implemented within the carrying capacity of farms and that proper measures be taken to reduce any damage and loss of fish due to fish diseases.

Inland fisheries and aquaculture

Japanese rivers and lakes are so narrow that the scale of inland water fishing resources is quite limited.

Nevertheless, inland waters play an important role in providing various freshwater fish and shellfish, such as ayu (sweetfish), providing opportunities for recreational fishing, to commune with nature, and preserve the natural environment. However, inland waters are currently suffering fishery- and ecosystem-related damage due to predation of indigenous fish species by black bass and other alien species. Under such circumstances, the Invasive Alien Species Act was established for the purpose of regulating the raising, carrying or importing of designated invasive alien species and to eliminate such species. Based on the opinions presented at the Invasive Alien Species Expert Committee meeting held in January 2005, discussion has started aiming to designate four species, including black bass, as invasive alien species in the fish species category.

The number of river cormorants has increased, with their geographical distribution expanding in recent years. To prevent and reduce damage to fishing brought by river cormorants, efforts have been made to deny them access to fishing grounds and to cull flocks.

Carp infected with the koi herpes virus (KHV) have been found in 39 prefectures in January 2005. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has appropriately promoted measures against KHV outbreaks, including restrictions on transportation of infected carp, their disposal, and disinfection of carp farms. In February 2004, the ministry inaugurated a conference of experts on the fishery quarantine system. In July 2004, the conference compiled a report on the present state and problems of aquatic animal quarantine measures and made proposals for the direction of future measures.

Production of inland fisheries and inland aquaculture was 110 918 t in 2003 (60 642 t + 50 276 t), a drop from 180 000 t registered in 1993. The main products from inland fisheries and aquaculture are eels, carp, trout and ayu sweetfish.

Utilization of the catch

In 2002, 652 000 t, nearly 13% of the Japanese fish catch, was destined for industrial use, including fishmeal to meet the demand for feeds for livestock and aquaculture purposes. Additionally, annual Japanese exports of fish and fishery products, particularly fresh and frozen products, although in small quantities, were between 244 000 t and 443 000 t live weight in the 1997–2002 period. In 2002, about 83% of the total domestic catch was thus available to supply the considerable domestic market for fish and fishery products in the form of fresh and frozen (3 945 000 t, 46%); salted, dried, smoked and others (3 243 000 t, 38%); breaded (1 037 000 t, 12%); and canned (329 000 t, 3.8%) items.

Fish trade

Japan’s fishery product imports in 2003 fell back both in volume (weight of products upon customs clearance, hereinafter the same) and value. In volume terms, the year’s imports declined by 496 000 t (13%) from the previous year, to 3.325 million tonne. In value, they dropped by ¥193 billion (11%) to ¥ 1 569.2 billion. However, Japan has remained the world’s largest fishery product importer both in volume and value, accounting for 14% of the world’s total fishery product import volume and 22% of total import value (as of 2002). China has been the largest fishery product exporter to Japan since 1998, although imports from China in 2003 decreased by 120 000 t (16%) in volume terms from the previous year and by ¥ 22.9 billion (7%) in value terms. At the same time, Japan’s fishery product exports in 2003 increased by 63 000 t (21%) to 370 000 t in volume terms from the previous year while decreasing by ¥ 1.1 billion (1%) to ¥ 135.4 billion in value.

Economic role of the fishing industry

Fisheries play an important role in food security in Japan and, being a primary industry in coastal areas, contribute significantly to regional economies. Being distributed countrywide, fishing communities make a vital contribution to the preservation of local traditional culture in the form of fish-eating habits, festivals, customs and manners.

As Japan is a country with limited agronomic and livestock-raising potential, marine products are an indispensable source of food for the large population, and in 1998 provided about 39% of the total animal protein supply. Furthermore, this sector supports (2003) some 238 000 fishers, although the number had fallen by almost 40% in 15 years. Women fishery workers numbered 40 000 in 2003. Workers employed for offshore and distant water fishing declined over a period of five years by 28%, to 25 000 in 2003. While young male workers declined, those aged above 70 increased.

At the end of 2003, Japan had 2 566 fisheries cooperative associations, including 1 510 for coastal regions, 878 for inland waters and 168 sector-specific associations.

The relative importance of the fishing industry either in terms of gross value added or export earnings, is diminishing as a result of the more rapid growth of imports.


In 2003, fish and other aquatic animal catches (excluding shellfish and seaweed) landed at major Japanese fishing ports and listed in a nearby local market increased by 8% from the previous year. The average price was ¥ 180/kg, down 17%. Japan now has about 900 local fish markets, many of which are in economic difficulties due to reduced turnover as catches have declined in both volume and value.

In 2003, the trade volume at major markets in consumption centres (central wholesale markets in 10 cities) declined by 3% from the previous year and 9% from five years earlier. The average price was ¥ 763/kg, down 4% from the previous year and 10% below five years earlier. Auction volumes declined while negotiation transactions increased.

The Wholesale Market Law was revised in June 2004 to promote a safer, more reliable and effective distribution system that meets consumer needs while reflecting relevant socio-economic changes.


In 2003, fish and shellfish (on an original weight basis) for domestic consumption decreased 2% to 10.98 million tonne from the pervious year, of which about 80% was supplied for human consumption, down 2% to 8.39 million tonne. Per capita annual fishery product consumption came to 65.7 kg on a crude food weight basis and to 36.2 kg on a net weight basis.


Development prospects in the near future are not bright in Japan. According to the results of a resource assessment conducted in 2004 on major fishery resources in the waters surrounding Japan, the levels of fishery resources are low for more than half of the species or stocks assessed. In addition, the decrease in the number of fishers and their increasing average age pose serious problems, affecting the production structure and closely linked to the sustainable use of fishery resources and the stable supply of fish.


Japanese facilities for fisheries research are extensive and comprehensive. There are nine national research institutes across the country (see Section – Internet Links), and, in addition, each prefecture has its institutes. Currently, fisheries research institutes are involved in the following activities:

  • Developing a simple automatic survey mechanism for fishing grounds.

  • Establishing a green belt in shallow coastal areas to facilitate the establishment of algae and seaweed grounds.

  • Establishing a multi-purpose coastal marine zone to expedite the vertical utilization of waters.

  • Developing methods to estimate the size of fish schools, using a fish finder.

  • Elaborating an early warning system and preventive methods for red tides.

  • Developing environmentally-friendly fishing gear, methods and vessels, such as for purse seining and bottom trawling.

  • Developing technology for high grade, value-added fish products, including preservation of freshness of fish on board.

  • Introducing new approaches through application of biotechnology, such as creation of improved fish species (e.g. trout) through biotechnology.

  • Exploiting the potential of satellite-based remote-sensing technology, including surveillance of fishing vessel operations, so as to detect illegal fishing.

Resources management

Current Japanese fishery policy is mainly focused on improving the productivity of fisheries and increasing fisheries production. While doing so, emphasis is given to rehabilitation of the state of fishery resources within the EEZ so as to increase fish production while reducing excessive fishing effort. The TAC system is properly implemented in the light of the Law Concerning Conservation and Management of Marine Living Resources, to increase the effectiveness of fisheries management.

Under agreements between relevant fisher groups, resource recovery plans have been developed for deteriorating fish stocks. Under such plans, no-fishing period bans on catches of small fish and other fishing restrictions have been imposed, releases of seedlings have been promoted to enhance fishery resources, and the environment of fishing grounds have been restored and conserved.

Since 2004, resources restoration plans have been developed and implemented. These plans include measures that have severe short-term effects on fishery business management.

International cooperation

Japanese vessels operate in the EEZs of various nations and in some disputed areas under bilateral agreements with the relevant countries, including the Republic of Korea, Russia, China, various Pacific island states and some African states.

In 1996 Japan ratified the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and as a consequence established an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. As part of fisheries policies relating to the EEZ, the total allowable catch (TAC) system has been introduced with a view to establishing a framework for the conservation and sustainable utilization of fishery resources.


At national level

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

National research institutes in the fisheries sector

Fisheries Research Agency

12-4, Fukuura 2-chome, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Pref., 236 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-45-788-7615

Fax: 0081-45-788-5001

[email protected]


Hokkaido National Fisheries Research Institute

116, Katsurakoi, Kushiro City, Hokkaido, 085-0802 JAPAN

Telephone: 0081-154-91-9136

Fax: 0081-154-91-9355

http://[email protected] (http://www_admin)


Tohoku National Fisheries Research Institute

27-5, Shinhama-cho 3-chome, Shiogama City,, Miyagi Pref., 985 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-22-365-1191

Fax: 0081-22-367-1250

http://[email protected] (http://www Administrator)


National Research Institute of Fisheries and Environment of Inland Sea

2-17-5, Maruishi, Ohno-cho, Saeki-gun, Hiroshima Pref.., 739-04 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-829-55-0666

Fax: 0081-829-54-1216 [text in Japanese]

[email protected]


Seikai National Fisheries Research Institute

49, Kokubu-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Pref., 850-0951 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-958-22-8158

Fax: 0081-958-21-4494

http://[email protected]


Japan Sea National Fisheries Research Institute

1-5939-22, Suido-cho, Niigata City, Niigata Pref., 951 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-25-228-0451

Fax: 0081-25-224-0950 [text in Japanese]

http://[email protected]


National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries

7-1, Orido 5-chome, Shimizu City, Shizuoka Pref., 424-8633 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-543-36-6000

Fax: 0081-543-35-9642

[email protected]


National Research Institute of Aquaculture

422-1, Nakatsuhamaura, Nansei-cho, Watarai-gun, Mie Pref., 516-01 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-5996-6-1830

Fax: 0081-5996-6-1962


National Research Institute of Fisheries Engineering

Ebidai, Hasaki-machi, Kashima-gun, Ibaraki Pref., 314-04 JAPAN

Tel: 0081-479-44-5929

Fax: 0081-479-44-1875

http://[email protected]