An advisory panel to the agriculture minister on Tuesday took action that will delay by at least one year any reopening of a large part of Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture to the Ariake Sea.

A dike built as part of a major reclamation project is being blamed by nori farmers in the area for destroying the quality of their crop. On March 27, Agriculture Minister Yoshio Yatsu said the ministry would open the dike’s eight gates to see whether doing so would return the ecosystem and the nori to their previous states.

But on Tuesday the National Research Institute of Fisheries Engineering, based in Ibaraki Prefecture, filed a second report on the matter that suggests the government further examine the causes of the damaged nori crop while keeping the gates closed.

The report was endorsed the same day at the fourth meeting of a 15-member advisory panel to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry headed by Makoto Shimizu, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

Last month, the panel recommended opening the gates on the 7,050-meter dike and keeping them open for at least a few years to monitor changes in the local ecosystem but did not specify any date for doing so.

But now that the advisory panel has quickly endorsed the latest report, nori farmers from Fukuoka, Saga and Kumamoto prefectures will have to wait at least until April 2002 before seeing the gates opened.

The dike was built as part of a reclamation project designed to create 1,840 hectares of farmland on the bay’s large tideland. Reclamation work has been under way since 1986, and the gates were shut in 1997.

The farmers have blamed the reduction in the amount of fresh seawater flowing into the crop area for the poor quality of Ariake Sea nori, previously one of the most sought-after varieties.

The Nagasaki Prefectural Government opposes any move to open the gates and has been lobbying for them to remain closed. It has argued that construction workers would lose their jobs if the gates are opened and the project halted.

The institute, which examined the findings of former government analyses of local seawater and sludge, said further studies of the “habitats of seabed creatures,” such as shellfish and shrimp, at various points are necessary.

It calls for research to be conducted throughout the year while keeping the gates shut to further study data gathered so far.

The Environment Ministry has said the gates’ closure disrupted the ecosystem and wiped out numerous seabed creatures that consume nitride and other nutrient salts, which nori needs to thrive.

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