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The Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission on Tuesday rejected a request by fishermen to determine that a major government reclamation project in Kyushu has damaged the local fishery industry, saying a causal link cannot be scientifically confirmed.

The commission, however, indirectly criticized the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, noting there was not enough data to make a decision, although sharp declines in some fishermen’s catches have been observed. The fishermen have been asking the farm ministry to conduct long-term research on the project by opening the dike gates.

The fishermen won a district court order in August 2004 to halt the Isahaya Bay reclamation project in Nagasaki Prefecture, which was authorized by the central government in 1986.

But a high court revoked the suspension order in May this year and told the fishermen in late June that the case may be brought to the Supreme Court.

The pollution panel’s decision, though legally nonbinding, could impact future court decisions on the project, which was more than 90 percent complete as of March.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry plans to complete the project in fiscal 2007.

“The decision does not rule out the possibility of the reclamation project having an impact on the fishing environment,” panel Chairman Kazuo Kato said.

The panel recognized there were drastic drops in catches of seaweed, pen shells, Japanese littleneck clams and other marine resources for some fishermen, but it did not go as far as to confirm a causal link, citing unknown factors related to the mechanism of red tide that kills seaweed in the region as well as other phenomena.

“An attempt was made to gather objective evidence by having experts conduct investigations, but given a still insufficient accumulation of objective data and scientific opinions, it was inevitable for us to conclude at this moment in time that we cannot confirm whether or not there is a causal link,” he said.

The commission added it hopes the government and other parties will conduct further investigations and research on environmental issues in the region so appropriate measures can be taken to bring back marine resources.

Isahaya Bay is part of the Ariake Sea, a nearly landlocked body of water encircled by Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Saga and Fukuoka prefectures.

The ministry began building the inner dike in August 2002 as part of a 250 billion yen land reclamation project to create farmland and a large reservoir.

Fishermen in the four prefectures asked the pollution panel to determine a causal link in April 2003. Last March, the panel completed deliberations based on a report by experts appointed by the commission.

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