With two years having passed since the massive quake and tsunami hit the Pacific coastal areas of the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, some local people are making efforts to revive devastated fisheries. Both the central and local governments should assist such efforts.
Some 80 percent of the fishing boats damaged by the disasters have been repaired in Iwate Prefecture and about 70 percent in Miyagi Prefecture. But in Fukushima Prefecture, the corresponding rate is only about 40 percent. The prefecture suffered not only from the quake and tsunami but also from the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. In this difficult situation, the Soma Futaba fishing cooperative in the northern part of the prefecture resumed fishing on a trial basis in June 2012. It is shipping North Pacific giant octopuses that have passed a strict radioactivity test to Tokyo and 12 prefectures. It is good news that the fishing cooperative has been able to overcome widespread rumors that fishery products from Fukushima Prefecture are contaminated with radioactive substances.
In the Momoura area of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, 15 fishermen, all more than 60 years old, have established a firm specializing in oyster farming. On March 4, they had their first harvest. A special fisheries reconstruction zone was established in the area at the initiative of the prefectural government to introduce capital and knowhow from the private sector. The fishermen’s company is receiving full support from a fisheries firm in Sendai. The local firm is selling its products directly to stores and consumers instead of utilizing the more costly services of the local fishing cooperative.
It is becoming more and more necessary for fishermen in the Tohoku region and fishermen in general, for that matter, to add value to their products by processing them and then marketing them directly to consumers without relying on wholesalers.
Compared with fishing activities, per se, the recovery of the fish products processing sector in the Tohoku region has been slow. The central and local governments need to continue to support it financially and otherwise.
Now that the Abe administration has decided to join the talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade scheme, Japan may be forced to lower or abolish tariffs on fishery imports, and cheap fish may find their way into Japanese markets in large quantities in the future. It may be necessary for fishermen not only in the Tohoku region but also in other parts of Japan to change their strategies and consider exporting their products.
To attract overseas customers, it will be important to add high value to fishery products through proper processing. Both the government and private sectors should carry out careful marketing research to determine what kinds of products foreign consumers would welcome. They should also take advantage of a trend in many countries that emphasizes eating more fish and less meat for health benefits, and promote their fish products accordingly.