Saving One of Japan's National Treasures: the Itou


​Our Tokyo office continues its work with the Wild Salmon Center (WSC) and the Sarufutsu Itou no Kai (SIK) to protect the endangered Itou, often referred to as Japan's "legendary fish" due to their size—one caught in 1988 was 83 inches long and weighed 231 pounds—and radiant color.

In 2009, we advised the WSC and SIK on a groundbreaking agreement to create the 2,660 hectare Sarufutsu Environmental Conservation Forest that protects the entire river, from the Itou’s spawning beds to the estuary where they live for most of their lives. This was said to be the first protected area established on privately owned lands in Japan for the express purpose of aquatic biodiversity conservation.

Currently, Mark Weeks, Yumiko Ohta and Yuko Inui are working with the WSC to develop catch-and-release single barbless hook fishing regulations and to increase awareness about the Itou. After more than 15 years of effort by several organizations, we recently convinced Sarufutsu-Mura Village to promulgate regulations governing fishing for Itou. This effort has been helped by the creation of regulations governing the fishing for Itou in nearby areas such as Lake Kanayama and Lake Shumarinai. Earlier this summer, Mark also spoke at the 7th Itou Symposium in Sarufutsu, hosted by the Sarufutsu Itou Conservation Council and SIK, to garner support from anglers for the new regulations.

"The Japanese government has not enacted any laws to protect the Itou, and the majority of Japanese people are still not aware of the wonderful animal that swims some of its rivers," said Mark Weeks.

"Stricter regulations need to be put in place, and habitat conservation efforts need to continue to stop the precipitous decline in the numbers of Itou so that people can continue to enjoy the pristine habitat in which the Itou live and anglers for generations to come can pursue this wonderful fish."

Our Tokyo team is committed to supporting WSC to further develop regulations and sustainable use of river systems. "When you protect a river, you do not just protect the fish, but also all of the animals that rely on the river and live in and around it, including birds, frogs, salamanders, deer, foxes, badgers and bears," Mark said.

The work our team has done in Japan dovetails nicely with the work we are doing in Mongolia with The Taimen Fund to help stop poaching of the Itou's relative, the Siberian Taimen (or hucho taimen), which are protected in Mongolia and may only be caught and released with single barbless hooks. The team's efforts have helped equip and train game wardens in one of the most remote and pristine water sheds in Mongolia to identify, track and arrest sophisticated poachers, many of whom come from countries other than Mongolia.