The agriculture ministry, following a court order, said Wednesday it will open the two floodgates in the Isahaya Bay dike in Nagasaki Prefecture for at least a year to study the impact on the marine environment and fishery business.
But the move, which is to come as early as fiscal 2012, falls short of Monday’s ruling that the government should keep the gates open for five years.
The ruling is in line with a suit filed by fishermen.
The ministry may also file an appeal based on the argument that keeping the gates open will require costly projects to mitigate the effect of high tides and may also damage the local fishery business.
It also prompted criticism from both beneficiaries and opponents of the dike, with farmers worried about salt pollution on parts of the bay filled in with land for crops if the gates are opened and fishermen feeling more time is needed to restore the marine ecosystem.
The ministry plans to officially announce its research plan by the Dec. 20 deadline for filing an appeal, officials said.
The Fukuoka High Court ruled in favor of local fishermen who claim the bay land-fill project has damaged the marine environment and their livelihoods.
The ministry will decide whether it will open the gates in three phases to let them fully open eventually or partially open them to control tidal action, after receiving an interim environmental assessment to be released next spring, the officials said.
About 40 individuals and corporations are currently engaged in farming the drained land, which was created along with a water reservoir behind the 7-km dike. The roughly ¥250 billion project was completed in March 2008.
Meanwhile, two Kyushu governors with conflicting interests in the Isayaha project made their cases to central government officials.
Saga Gov. Yasushi Furukawa, who represents the interests of local fishermen, urged government officials and members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to immediately accept the ruling by the Fukuoka High Court and begin an environmental assessment.
Local fishermen claim their catches have decreased because the dike has changed the sea current in the bay.
Meanwhile, Nagasaki Gov. Hodo Nakamura, who is pushing for the land project to create new farmland, urged the government to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
The ruling caused the decades-old controversy to flare up again, with fishermen from Nagasaki and Saga prefectures staging a sit-in in central Tokyo Tuesday demanding the government immediately open the two gates.
“Our life is on the edge. I see no other way toward our recovery but the opening of the dike,” Naoki Nakata, a 60-year-old fisherman from the city of Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, said as he took part in the demonstration in front of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry building.
“The ruling rejected almost all claims by the government,” said Ryoichi Hori, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “Will the state accept the immediate opening or push itself further to appeal the ruling?”
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has suggested the government will take steps toward opening the floodgates for research purposes.