Ruling favors fishermen; state ordered to open Isahaya Bay dike

Kyodo

The Saga District Court ordered the government Friday to open the floodgates of the Isahaya Bay dike in Nagasaki Prefecture, ruling in favor of some 2,500 fishermen who claimed the state project to fill in the bay has damaged the seawater environment in the area and hurt their business.

“A substantial degree of evidence has been established that the closure (of the floodgates) has caused damage to the inside of the bay and the nearby fishing grounds,” presiding Judge Ryuichi Kamiyama said. “The state’s refusal to cooperate in a mid- to long-term assessment of the possible outcome of the opening is nothing but interference with efforts to document the damage claimed by the plaintiffs.”

But the judge declined to recognize a correlation between the floodgates’ closure and damage in the entire Ariake Sea, citing insufficient verifiable evidence. The judge ruled that the government should leave the dike open for five years as a research period. The government has a three-year moratorium on the opening of the dike.

The government has so far refused to open the floodgates, citing the huge costs of such an operation.

The fishermen from four prefectures along the bay — Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki and Kumamoto — claimed the current in the Ariake Sea has weakened since the bay was closed by the 7-km dike in 1997, resulting in red tides and doldrums for their business.

The government authorized the ¥250 billion land fill project, designed to create farmland as well as to prevent floods, in 1986, creating controversy over the costs and benefits of the project and its environmental impact.

The fishermen filed their first lawsuit seeking an injunction against the project in November 2002. The court granted their demand in August 2004 and fill work was halted.

But the Fukuoka High Court authorized the resumption of the project and the Supreme Court upheld the decision in September 2005, prompting the plaintiffs to file a lawsuit eventually to demand that the government remove the dike and open the floodgates.

Despite strong opposition from fishermen, the project was completed this March. A total of 41 companies and individuals have already started farming on the 680 hectares of farmland.

In Friday’s ruling, Judge Kamiyama said the dike’s flood-control functions “can be replaced with other works.” The judge also said farming in the filled-in part of the bay, which is believed to be affected by the possible opening of the floodgates, “cannot be said to have public benefits that exceed the violation of the fisheries’ rights.”

Fishermen who waited outside the court cheered, hugged each other or wept in joy as a lawyer rushed out with a banner boasting the court order to open the floodgates.

Akio Manaki, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, “It was a reasonable ruling and we highly praise it.

“The central government should take it seriously that the court (has supported the fishermen’s claims) not just once but twice, and give up appealing the court decision and immediately start the procedure to open the floodgates,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.

In Tokyo, farm minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi said his ministry will closely examine the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

Teruhisa Yutaka, assistant chief of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry’s farmland management division, said, “We have to take the ruling seriously, but we are concerned about the opening’s possible impact on the fishing environment.”

Nagasaki Gov. Genjiro Kaneko said opening the gates would have a major impact on the farming already started on the filled-in land, although he said he wants to wait for the central government’s response before commenting further on the ruling.