Faced with a shift in eating patterns at home towards more meat, cheaper competition from abroad and stocks depleted by years of overfishing, Japan's fishermen say the government must step in.

"Fisherman have exceeded the limits of what they can do on their own, and in the current situation face mounting losses when they set out to catch fish," the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations said in a statement.

The federation, along with a host of other protesting organisations, say boat fuel prices have tripled over the last three years, threatening to force thousands of fishermen out of business.

Yoshiro Kiyono, a 74-year-old fisherman from Katsuura in Chiba prefecture, said he had "stopped going out to sea because I can't make a profit".

Oil prices have doubled over the past year and are up five-fold since 2003, hitting record heights above $147 a barrel last week.

Tuesday's strike by Japanese fisherman is the latest in an international wave of protests by workers in fuel-intensive industries.

Lorry and taxi drivers and fishermen in Asia, Europe and the US have gone on strike to demand their governments provide relief from soaring fuel costs.