Global Fishing Index


Japan has a developed fisheries governance system that, where applied, has the capacity to ensure sustainable fishing. However, Japan has made limited progress towards restoring fish stocks to sustainable levels, with half of its catch from unassessed stocks, with unknown levels of sustainability.

Japan is an archipelagic nation that consists of nearly 7,000 islands across vast ocean area. Japan has a long history of fishing in its productive coastal waters,1 and globally is the fifth largest producer of wild-caught fisheries.2 Japan is one of fourteen countries represented on the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – an initiative committed to sustainable fisheries and economic prosperity.3 

Japan has a developed fisheries governance system that, where applied, has the capacity to ensure sustainable fishing. However, clear gaps remain, particularly the limited use of science-based management measures. Overall, Japan shows limited progress to restore fish stocks. Half of the total catch in Japan’s waters comes from unassessed stocks, which lack the data to determine their sustainability. More than half its assessed stocks are overfished, including nine out of the ten largest stocks by volume. To advance towards SDG target 14.4, Japan needs to take urgent action to rebuild overfished stocks and strengthen science-based management.


Review the management measures in place for overfished stocks and take corrective action, where needed.
Expand the use of evidence-based management measures, such as catch and effort limits, across all fisheries.
Adopt a National Plan of Action to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Eliminate all harmful subsidies and redirect investment into fisheries management.
Ratify and implement the 1957 ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105) and the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) to protect worker rights in fisheries.

Progress towards SDG target 14.4

Japan performs in the mid-range of countries, both globally and regionally, but demonstrates limited progress towards ensuring all fish stocks within its waters are sustainably managed.

Japan’s relatively low (just 20.9 out of 100) Progress score is due to the fact that 50 per cent of catch in its national waters comes from unassessed stocks, that do not have official published assessments or sufficient data available to estimate stock health.

Only 28 of Japan’s 67 assessed fish stocks (42 per cent) are considered sustainable, defined as being at or above 40 per cent of their unfished levels of abundance. Critically, in terms of catch volume, nine of the ten largest stocks are overfished, including the Japanese pilchard (Sardinops melanostictus), Pacific saury (Cololabis saira) and Japanese anchovy (Trachurus japonicus). All sustainable stocks together account for 37 per cent of the total catch in Japan’s waters since 1990, compared to only 13 per cent of catch coming from sustainable stocks.

Fisheries governance

Japan performs in the top 10 per cent of countries globally and is among the top three countries in Central, Southern, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia for fisheries governance. Japan has a developed fisheries governance system that, where implemented, promotes sustainable fishing. However, clear gaps remain regarding the limited use of science-based management, provision of harmful fishing subsidies and lack of protection for worker rights and safety in fisheries.

Japan is a global leader in terms of stakeholder participation in fisheries management. Stakeholders are provided opportunities to participate through the decentralisation of management responsibilities to lower levels of authority – for example, through community-based or customary management arrangements at local and regional levels. Furthermore, stakeholder engagement is supported by transparent decision-making processes and widespread fisher representation groups (such as cooperatives or associations).

At a national level, Japan has a solid fisheries policy foundation with clearly stated environmental, economic and livelihood objectives, as well as a strong commitment to international standards for fisheries management and marine conservation. However, Japan is yet to ratify key agreements for protecting fisheries worker rights and safety, including the 1957 ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105), the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) and the 2012 IMO Cape Town Agreement.

Japan also continues to provide a diverse range of harmful fishing subsidies – such as reduced fuel prices and tax exemptions. In fact, close to 80 per cent of Japan’s fishing subsidy budget (estimated at nearly US$2 billion in 2018) are linked to potentially harmful activities that promote overcapacity and overfishing.4

There is evidence that Japan has financial and professional capacity to undertake fisheries management. For example, it collects high-quality fisheries information, such as catch, fishing effort and stock status data, for key fisheries like tuna. Science-based catch and/or effort limits to regulate fishing pressure have also been established in some, but not all, fisheries. However, evidence-based harvest control rules – pre-determined rules that guide management action, based on the state of fisheries resources – are not applied, even in the valuable purse seine tuna fishery (with the exception of pacific bluefin, Thunnus orientalis).

Japan uses a range of tools to control and monitor access to fisheries resources, including extensive vessel registration requirements and spatial restrictions, such as marine protected areas and coastal management zones that prohibit large-scale fishing operations. Most commercial vessels fishing in Japan’s waters are also required to hold valid fishing licences; however, this requirement is yet to extend to domestic, non-commercial vessels (for example, vessels used for recreational or subsistence fishing).

Foreign fishing is permitted in Japan’s waters through bilateral and/or multilateral agreements. While a very low level of fishing by foreign-flagged vessels was detected in Japanese waters in 2019, it included vessels operating under known ‘flags of convenience’, which often mask true vessel ownership and reduce accountability5; these are considered high risk for illegal activities. Japan has components of a solid compliance management system – including on-water and in-port fisheries inspections and graduated sanctions for fisheries violations – which may help mitigate risk associated with these vessels. However, Japan can further strengthen its compliance system by implementing a national plan of action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Key metrics

Metric Value
Progress score 20.9 out of 100
Total reconstructed catch in 2018 5.4 million tonnes
Total reconstructed catch (1990 to 2018) 189.1 million tonnes
Sustainable stocks 42%
Overfished stocks 58%
Catch from sustainable stocks (1990 to 2018) 13%
Catch from overfished stocks (1990 to 2018) 37%
Catch from unassessed stocks (1990 to 2018) 50%
Governance capacity High: Level 8 of 12

Methods and data sources

Japan is considered part of the Central, Southern, Eastern and South-East Asian region. Refer to the Technical Methods for a detailed explanation of the methods used by the Minderoo Foundation to produce the 2021 Global Fishing Index. The Technical Methods should be read in conjunction with the Global Fishing Index Key Insights report, Governance Conceptual Framework and Indicator Codebook.

Japan’s Progress score was informed by 67 assessed fish stocks. Seven stocks had recent published official stock assessments, all from regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The remaining 60 stocks were assessed using publicly available data and established data limited methods (CMSY++ or the Bayesian Schaefer Model).67 Catch and stock sustainability estimates were reviewed by one local fisheries expert, prior to finalisation.

Japan’s governance assessment was informed by two questionnaire respondents, interviews with three local fisheries experts and the publicly available literature. Consulted references are listed in the bibliography below. Our governance assessment measures country-level fisheries governance, with eight indicators referring specifically to a country’s most valuable fishery, as identified by respondents. The most valuable fishery identified for Japan was the purse seine tuna spp. fishery.

Governance bibliography

The following sources informed Japan’s governance assessment:

Chang, A. (2016). Opportunities for Sustainable Fisheries in Japan, Ocean Outcome, pp. 1-36. [13 May 2020]

Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (n.d.). Total Allowable Catch. [13 May 2020]

e-Stat (2016). Survey on fishery processing industry management. [13 May 2020]

Fisheries Agency of Japan (2017). New Fisheries Basic Plan: Fisheries Agency. [13 May 2020]

Fisheries Agency of Japan (2018). 2018 Resource Trend Report. [13 May 2020]

Fisheries Agency of Japan (2019). Basic policy: Fisheries Agency. [13 May 2020]

Fisheries Agency of Japan (2019). Fisheries Agency (Organization): Fisheries Agency. [13 May 2020]

Fisheries Department Planning Section (2018). FY2018 Fisheries White Paper Outline: Fisheries Agency. [13 May 2020]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2009). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2009. Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profiles: Japan. Part II Narrative (updated 2009). Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO. [13 May 2020]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2019). Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profiles. Japan. [13 May 2020]

Gilman, E., Passfield, K. and Nakamura, K. (2012). Performance Assessment of Bycatch and Discards Governance by Regional Fisheries Management Organization, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, pp. 1-499. [13 May 2020]

IUU Watch (2017). Japan ratifies international treaty tackling IUU. [13 May 2020]

Kamoey, A. (2015). The Japanese market for seafood, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, pp. 1-53. [10 June 2020]

Keiko, F. (2019). MAFF Receives Budget Increase in JFY2019, USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, pp. 1-9. [13 May 2020]

Japanese Law Translation, Fishery Act, Law No. 267 of 1949 (1949). [10 June 2020]

Martí, C.-P., Vallerani, M. and Ojamaa, P. (2017). Fisheries in Japan, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies European Parliament, B-1047 Brussels, p. 80. [13 May 2020]

McIlwain, K. and Smith, N. (2013). Japanese Common Fishing Rights System, Catch Shares in Action: Japanese Common Fishing Rights System. Environmental Defense Fund., pp. 1-12. [13 May 2020]

Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (2017). FY 2016 Trend in Fisheries, FY 2017 Fisheries Policy, White Paper on Fisheries: Summary, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, pp. 1-29. [13 May 2020]

Ministry of Agriculture Forestry Fisheries (2019). Fishery employment trend survey. [13 May 2020]

Ministry of Agriculture Forestry Fisheries (2020). Organization : MAFF. [13 May 2020]

MRAG Europe Limited (2017). IUU Fishing Risk in and around Japan, MRAG Europe Limited, Dublin 6W Republic of Ireland, pp. 1-403. [13 May 2020]

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2018). Official development assistance (ODA) – Net ODA. [13 May 2020]

Peck, N. (2015). The Fishing Industry and the Environment in Japan, pp. 1-48. [13 May 2020]

Ruddle, K. and Segi, S. (2006). The Management of Inshore Marine Recreational Fishing in Japan, Coastal Management 34, pp. 87-110, [13 May 2020]

Schmidt, C.-C. (2003). Fisheries and Japan: A case of multiple roles?, International Symposium on Multiple Roles and Functions of Fisheries and Fishing Communities 13, pp. 1-18, [13 May 2020]

Tanoue, W. (2015). Japan’s Total Allowable Catch Systems in Fishery Resource Management, University of Washington, pp. 1-128. [13 May 2020]

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation (2016). Japan Seafood Market and Fisheries Strategy, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, pp. 1-15. [10 June 2020]

Toshio, K. (2019). Building a Future for Japan’s Fisheries Industry. [13 January 2021]

Tremblay-Boyer, L., McKechnie, S., Pilling, G. and Hampton, J. (2017). Stock assessment of yellowfin tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean Rev 1 (26 July 2017). [13 May 2020]

Tsurita, I., Hori, J., Kunieda, T., Hori, M. and Makino, M. (2018). Marine protected areas, Satoumi, and territorial use rights for fisheries: A case study from hinase, Japan, Marine Policy 91, pp. 41–48, [13 May 2020]

Uchida, H. and Makino, M. (2008). Japanese coastal fishery co-management: an overview, Food and Agriculture Organization, pp. 221-230. [13 May 2020]

Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (2012). Catch and Effort tables on CMM 2008-01. [10 June 2020]

Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (2015). Conservation and Management Measure for bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. [10 June 2020]

Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Guidelines, Procedures and Regulations (2020). [13 May 2020]

Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (2020). WCPFC Record of Fishing Vessels. [13 May 2020]


1Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2019). Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profiles. Japan. [13 May 2020]
2Based on estimated reconstructed catch within each country’s national waters between 2014 – 2018. Pauly, D., Zeller, D. and Palomares, M.L.D. (2021). Sea Around Us Concepts, Design and Data. [30 June 2021]
3World Resources Institute (2021). High level panel for a sustainable ocean economy. [15 January 2021]
4Sumaila, U.R., Khan, A.S., Dyck, A.J., Watson, R., Munro, G., Tydemers, P. and Pauly, D. (2010). A Bottom-Up Re-estimation of Global Fisheries Subsidies, Journal of Bioeconomics 12, (3), pp. 201-225, [18 May 2020]
5International Transport Workers’ Federation (2021). List of countries deemed to be Flags of Convenience. [21 January 2021]
6Froese, R., Demirel, N., Coro, G., Kleisner, K.M. and Winker, H. (2017). Estimating Fisheries Reference Points from Catch and Resilience, Fish and Fisheries 18, (3), pp. 506-526, [03 June 2021]
7Froese, R., Winker, H., Coro, G., Palomares, M.L.D., Tsikliras, A.C., Dimarchopoulou, D., Touloumis, K., Demirel, N., Vianna, G.M.S., Scarcella, G., Schijns, R., Liang, C. and Pauly, D. (in review). Catch Time Series As the Basis For Fish Stock Assessments: The CMSY++ Method, Fish and Fisheries, [3 March 2021]