The words “Japan” and “conservation” are being used in the same sentence. Tuna conservation talks began today in Japan to find ways to avoid commercial extinction of tuna species that have been exploited by the Japanese and others for far too long.

The meeting of the five tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) is being held in Kobe, Japan to address the decline in tuna stocks worldwide. The agenda include plans to establish a global tracking system to identify the origin of every tuna sold commercially. This and other measures are being taken to reverse the damage done by illegal and unregulated fishing along with unsustainable tuna quotas. Adult Bluefin tuna populations in the western Atlantic are now less than one-fifth of what they were just 30 years ago. In the Indian Ocean, Southern Bluefin tuna stocks have decreased by 90 percent.

Japan’s appetite for Bluefin tuna for high-end sushi and sashimi is partly to blame. In 2006 Japan admitted overfishing Southern bluefin tuna and were consequently penalized with a reduction in its catch quota. Japan called the Kobe meeting of the regulating bodies to discuss actions needed to ensure the survival of the species.

Prior to the Kobe meeting, the WWF released a new briefing “Tuna in Trouble: Major Problems for the World’s Tuna Fisheries” (PDF), which reveals rampant illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, unsustainable quotas, and too many fishers competing for the remaining tunas. According to WWF, sustainable management of the world’s tuna fisheries is possible, but governments ignore scientific advice and fail to implement conservation and management measures and ignore illegal fishing.

Additionally, the capacity of the world’s tuna fleets is far greater than what’s needed to catch the legal quota. And tuna RFMOs have often failed to minimize bycatch, which includes non-targeted species such as sharks, turtles, seabirds, dolphins, and small whales.

The Kobe meeting is being held through the 26th of January.