Isahaya ruling puts the state in a quandary

Kyodo

The fate of the contentious plan to open the floodgates of the Isahaya Bay dike protecting filled-in land in Nagasaki Prefecture has become even more uncertain now that a district court has ruled that the government must keep them closed, in direct contradiction to an earlier ruling by a high court.

Torn between the conflicting rulings, the government is now faced with the difficult decision of whether to open the floodgates, as demanded by local fishermen, or leave them shut as sought by farmers using the reclaimed land.

The Nagasaki District Court issued an injunction Tuesday barring the government from opening the floodgates, which it had planned to open by Dec. 20.

The latest court decision diametrically opposes a December 2010 ruling by the Fukuoka High Court that sided with the fishermen and ordered the government to open the floodgates for five years and examine the dike’s impact on the environment and fishing in the bay. The floodgates were closed in 1997.

The high court decision appeared to have been the final word, as the government of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan did not appeal the ruling. Before the latest ruling, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry had been discussing plans to speed up the preparatory work to start the impact research on time. The ministry is now unsure what may become of the plans, an official said.

“If local opposition gains momentum, things will become even more complicated,” the official said.

“The government can’t act against the injunction. It just has to wait until the outcome of the challenge,” assuming it may file a challenge against the new ruling, said Kenichi Ido, an attorney with experience as a judge in the Osaka High Court. “It’s a sticky situation.”

Farmers working the land in the filled-in part of the bay, worried their farms may be damaged as a result of opening the floodgates, had filed for the injunction in response to the high court ruling.

“I wish the government would give up on opening the floodgates,” said Hirotoshi Yamabiraki, 66, who operates a farm inside the dike. “It’s clear the farms would be damaged by saltwater if they opened the floodgates.”

In response to the new ruling, Nagasaki Prefecture and the Isahaya and Unzen municipalities plan to request a halt to the central government plan to open the floodgates, according to sources.

“I want the government not to file a challenge, and review its entire plan to open the gates,” said Nagasaki Gov. Hodo Nakamura.

Meanwhile, local fishermen who have suffered decreased hauls of shellfish and nori and had high hopes for the opening of the floodgates, were disappointed.

“I’m shocked beyond being angered. I’m sad,” said Nobukiyo Hirakata, 60, who fishes for “tairagi” shellfish and was on the winning side in the 2010 ruling. “If fishing remains stagnant, you’ll eventually see all fishermen gone from this area.”

The fishermen who backed the state in the Nagasaki proceedings plan to challenge ruling. They also plan to file for penalty money should the government decide against opening the floodgates, said Akio Managi, who led the attorneys representing the fishermen in the Fukuoka proceedings.