The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   S I G H T I N G S

U.S.- Japan Fish Stew

Concern about strained trade relations between the U.S. and Japan has focused on American auto industry demands for import quotas, but a decision due soon may create a greater splash over the commodity the island nation may value most highly: fish.

With only one dissent, the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee approved a bill June 12 that aims ultimately at phasing out all foreign fishing within 200 miles of U.S. coastlines. Sponsored by Louisiana Democrat John Breaux, the American Fisheries Promotion Act combines incentives for U.S. industry with rising fees and falling quotas for foreign fishing.

The Breaux bill, some of whose provisions the Carter administration questions. would be a big blow to Japan. The Japanese account for 72 percent of the foreign catch by volume in U.S. waters, and Hisao Katagiri, fisheries counsellor at the Japanese Embassy to the U.S., warns the bill "would adversely affect not only U.S.-Japan fishery relations, but also U.S -Japan general economic relations."

Current law sets foreign fishing quotas only after assigning Americans all they can catch. Traditionally the U.S. industry claimed high-priced seafood such as salmon and halibut. The Japanese concentrate on low-value bottomfish-like pollock and hake and process it in bulk for the home market.

Many American fish harvesters would like to haul bottomfish in the off-season, but they find U.S. processing facilities inadequate, according to industry specialists. Japanese trading and fishing companies now control up to 80 percent of processing in Alaska and Washington state, by some congressional committee estimates.

To help them move into the Japanese-dominated field, the Breaux bill provides loan guarantees for U.S.-owned shoreside processors. It also tries to assure U.S. investors a share of foreign markets by curtailing the foreign catch in U.S. waters. Foreign allocations would be cut 15 percent in 1981, with further reductions contingent on Americans taking up more than half the slack.

The Breaux bill could backfire. Although the U.S. controls the fish supply in its zone, Japan has the final word on access to its market, and Katagiri suggests the bill could trigger "a movement to restrict imports of U.S. fishing products." -Mark Anspach

Table of Contents