A comprehensive report on the state of conservation of the property was received from the State Party on 27 January 2012. The report responds to issues raised by the Committee in Decision 32 COM 7B.16 and reports progress against the recommendations of the 2008 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission. A copy of the 2009 Management Plan and sub-plans for the property is provided in an annex to the report.
a) Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) designation for marine areas to improve protection
The State Party reports that the impacts of international shipping on the property’s values are currently minimal. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is investigating enhanced navigation systems for shipping which will be evaluated by the State Party before considering the need for PSSA designation of the marine areas of the property.
b) Management planning
The State Party notes that the overall Management Plan for Shiretoko has been revised in December 2009 to become the “Management Plan for the Shiretoko World Natural Heritage Site” (World Heritage Management Plan). The revision has updated the former 2004 plan and results are reported upon annually. The new World Heritage Management Plan integrates terrestrial and marine management at a general level with details provided in sub plans such as for Sika Deer and Multiple Use Marine Areas which are annexed to the main plan. These sub plans are currently being reviewed. The Scientific Council is developing a mid- and long-term monitoring plan to ensure that values of the property are being maintained. Future revisions of the World Heritage Management Plan will consider the identification of objectively verifiable indicators and adjusted timeframes.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the revision of the plan and consider the establishment of a relatively simple overarching Management Plan for the property within which more detailed sub plans are developed to be an effective planning framework. The State Party is encouraged to progressively review all thematic sub plans and update these consistent with the World Heritage Management Plan. Strengthened priority setting, objectively verifiable indicators and implementation timeframes should be incorporated into revised plans.
c) Management of marine resources
In response to the need for improved local marine zoning the State Party notes that fishers and fishing associations self-manage no-take zones and no-take periods to ensure sustainable use of marine resources. Kushiro Nature Conservation Office and the Hokkaido Government monitor fishing activities in accordance with the marine Management Plan.
The State Party also reports on enhanced cooperation with the Russian Federation to promote exchange of scientific information and to address issues of unsustainable harvesting of Walleye Pollock. A Cooperation Program on sustainable use of ecosystems was signed between the two countries in May 2009. Several joint workshops and symposiums have been held. In addition, a joint statement among researchers from Japan, China, and Russia was adopted and a researchers’ network, the “Amur Okhotsk Consortium”, has been established. The State Party reports that Walleye Pollock levels have not returned to pre-1989 levels however they have stabilised. Monitoring, legal regulation and voluntary management by fishing cooperatives continue.
The State Party further notes a number of measures which have been adopted to limit the culling of Steller Sea Lions which threaten local fishing (economic damage estimated at 12 m USD p.a.). Measures include regulation of reinforced nets, use of deterrents and monitoring of catch limits, however, none are completely effective in achieving co-existence between fishing and Sea Lions. Overall Asian populations of Steller Sea Lions are reported as slowly recovering (1.2% increase p.a. since the early 1990s). Sea Lions in the region are culled in accordance with quotas and guidelines set by the Hokkaido Fishing Coordination Commission. A new system for quarterly management introduced in October 2010 is expected to allow for flexible management based on migration and damage conditions in the Hokkaido fishery grounds.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the enhanced efforts at collaboration between Japan, Russia and China. This has focused to date on research and information exchange. The 2008 mission noted impressive levels of community stewardship which appear to have continued. IUCN notes that it will be important to continue collaboration through the development of joint planning and sustainable fishing agreements which can be monitored to ensure on-going conservation of marine stocks. Concerns remain over the culling of Steller Sea Lions through a quota system in operation since 1994. Statistics in the Multiple Use Marine Areas Plan show the number of Sea Lions caught averaging 106 p.a. since 1997 however, there is no data provided post 2006 nor are population trends shown for Steller Sea Lions within the property. The adoption of a quarterly management method is welcomed. This method should be supported by additional data to assess the impact of annual cullings on local Steller Sea Lion populations.
d) Management of salmonids and river constructions
The State Party records that the River Construction Working Group of the Shiretoko World Natural Heritage Site Scientific Council identified 13 river structures on five rivers within the property. Modifications of these began in 2006 and further structural modifications are planned to facilitate natural salmonid movement. Monitoring shows the positive increase in levels of spawning and escapement resulting from installation of fishways.
The IUCN Species Survival Commission Salmonid Specialist Group, whilst acknowledging efforts to modify river constructions, has expressed concerns regarding three dams which remain on the Rusha River, noting that this is one of the largest and most important salmon rivers at the site. To the extent possible, dam removal should also continue in some of the other river systems at the site.
IUCN notes that measures to enhance spawning fish densities will also benefit a variety of other taxa at the site, particularly the iconic higuma (Hokkaido brown bear) that rely on salmon as an important food source in the fall.
e) Management of Sika Deer grazing impacts
The State Party reports that the Kushiro Nature Conservation Office is developing indicators for monitoring Sika Deer grazing impacts. The Sika Deer and Terrestrial Ecosystem Working Group are also managing deer populations in accordance with the 2006 Sika Deer Management sub plan to manipulate population size through humane control programmes.
f) Ecotourism Strategy linked to regional tourism development
The State Party notes provisions within the updated 2009 Management Plan which specify the importance of avoiding negative tourism impacts on the natural environment through the establishment and implementation of Guidelines for Shiretoko Ecotourism. A Shiretoko Ecotourism Strategy was prepared in 2010 to protect natural values, stimulate local development and promote high-quality nature-based visitor experiences.
g) Climate Change Strategy to monitor impacts and implement adaptive management strategies
The State Party reports on a series of initial discussions through the Scientific Council to better understand climate change impacts on the property as part of broader natural resource monitoring programmes.
Efforts to understand climate change impacts and assess vulnerability and adaptive responses should be accelerated given the particular sensitivity of the property to terrestrial-marine interplay. The property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) related to being the southernmost occurrence of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere could be at significant risk from climate change impacts.