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Russian Trawlers Tracked Near Fukushima Despite Seafood Embargo

Despite following China in restricting Japanese seafood imports, three Russian trawlers were found to be operating in waters near the Fukushima nuclear plant.



In late May 2023, a Russian trawler was spotted off the coast of Hokkaido. (Provided by the Japan Coast Guard. Some parts of the image have been edited.)

On January 12, it came to light that Russian trawlers were operating in Japanese coastal waters within 50 kilometers of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This information was obtained by analyzing data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) employed on the trawlers.

This development follows Russia's announcement of import restrictions on Japanese seafood on October 16, 2023. It cited concerns about the release of treated water from the Fukushima plant.

Experts are accusing Russia of having double standards, given that their vessels were found operating in the same waters as Japanese ones.

According to data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW), which tracks the position and operations of vessels equipped with AIS, the Russian trawlers each exceed 7,000 tons. International treaties require all passenger ships and vessels weighing more than 300 gross tons to use AIS when visiting foreign ports. 

The trawlers had also entered waters near Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. Since mid-December 2023, they had been moving south after fishing in resource-rich waters near the Northern Territories.

Blatant Hypocrisy

Furthermore, it was determined that two of the trawlers were operating 32 to 41 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on December 13 and 14. It is assumed that they were fishing for mackerel and sardines. The Japan Coast Guard reportedly monitored these movements using large unmanned aerial vehicles, sharing the information with the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

The Sankei Shimbun, based on GFW data, found that two trawlers left Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia's central city in the Kamchatka area, on September 29 and November 3, 2023. The third trawler departed from Busan Port in South Korea on December 3, passing through the Tsugaru Strait from the Sea of Japan to arrive in the seas near the Northern Territories.

Pleasing China

In December 2022, Japan and Russia reached an agreement on reciprocal fishing access in each other's exclusive economic zones (EEZ) for the following year. Russian vessels were prohibited from operating in the Japanese EEZ until November 14, 2023.


Beijing faces similar accusations of hypocrisy. Chinese fishing vessels have continued to operate in the North Pacific off Fukushima and Hokkaido, catching mackerel and other seafood since the release of treated water into the ocean. Despite prohibiting the import of seafood caught by Japanese vessels in the same waters, China domestically distributes seafood caught by its vessels.

Yoshihiko Yamada, a professor of Marine Policy at Tokai University, explained, "Russia's import ban is nothing but a political move to exert pressure [on Japan] to please China." 

Similarly, Atsushi Toyama, former head of the 3rd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, stated, "Turning a blind eye to the reality of their own countries' fishing industries and selectively condemning the treated water release is an arbitrary assertion that lacks international balance."

The Automatic Identification System (AIS)

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a system designed to automatically transmit and receive crucial information regarding the safety of vessels. This information includes details like the vessel's type, position, and speed. AIS facilitates communication between vessels and other parties nearby. In coastal areas, it is used to alert vessels to the risk of grounding, contributing to the prevention of maritime accidents.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Naoki Otake and Ryo Nishiyama

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