Operators idle squid boats over fuel costs

Kyodo News

Some 3,000 squid vessels nationwide suspended operations Wednesday to draw the public’s attention to soaring fuel costs that are negatively affecting their business, organizers said.

The halt, which will run through Thursday night, was organized in response to a request by the nationwide association of squid boat operators.

The association said it was initially going to suspend the operation of some 900 relatively small vessels, each weighing 10 to 30 tons. But a large number of small-boat operators wanted to join the stoppage.

This bolstered the number of vessels joining Wednesday’s suspension to 3,000, the first of its kind by the industry against the surge in fuel costs, the association said.

But a Fisheries Agency official dismissed the possibility that the suspension would have an impact on retail prices, saying it is “unlikely to have a major impact” because it will last just two days.

Similar suspensions, however, are being considered by 12 other fishing industry bodies, including the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations and the tuna fishermen’s group.

If tuna fishermen proceed with a temporary stoppage, it might induce a supply shortage and retail price hikes, industry officials said.

Some 30 percent of the world’s ocean-going, long-line tuna boat operators are considering halting operations, according to a survey by a fishing industry association.

According to the federation, the cost of fuel oil A — a major fuel for fishing vessels — averaged ¥94,400 per kiloliter across the nation in May, up sharply from ¥39,000 in 2003. The average cost is forecast to rise to ¥104,600 in June.

Fuel oil is used not only to operate vessels but also to power their lamps for luring squid, making fishermen’s livelihood susceptible to fuel cost surges.

“Even if fishermen put to sea, they would end up operating in the red,” a fishing industry official said.

The season for common squid, or “surumeika,” runs from June to November. About 4,700 squid boats, each weighing between 5 tons to 30 tons, are registered in Japan.