The one-day stoppage of fishing operations on Tuesday proves that current high oil prices are acutely affecting economic activities. Most of Japan’s 200,000 fishing boats took part in the fishermen’s strike throughout the country, the first and largest of its kind.
The 16 fishing organizations that called the strike say it was designed to make consumers, retailers and the government aware of the plight faced by Japan’s fisheries.
The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (JF Zengyoren) says the price of “A” heavy oil — the fuel oil used for fishing boat engines — was ¥39,000 per kiloliter in 2003 on average. The price for this month is expected to reach ¥115,400, roughly three times the price of five years ago. The fuel cost now accounts for 30 to 40 percent of total operation costs.
The organization says that since fish are wholesaled at auction markets, it is difficult for fishermen and fishing firms to pass on fuel costs to consumers. Large retail chains like supermarkets also wield influence in setting price levels.
Efforts to streamline the complex distribution system will benefit both consumers and fishermen. But such efforts take time. High oil prices are likely to be passed on anyhow and consumers may have to endure higher fish prices. The latter should try to eat a variety of fish to prevent steep price rises for certain kinds of fish. Distributors and retailers should stop wasting fish resources that have been put on the market.
In 2006, only 59 percent of the fish consumed in Japan were domestically produced. JF Zengyoren fears that the soaring oil prices will force further stoppages of operations and the discontinuation of fishery businesses, lowering the self-sufficiency rate to between 48 percent and 30 percent. The worst scenario would be a 40 percent reduction in the number of fishermen.
No instant solutions to the fishing industry’s problems are likely. Both the industry and the government should devise ways to decrease the cost of fishing operations and rationalize both operations and distribution.