• Kyodo

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The Saga District Court ordered the government Friday to start paying a penalty to fishermen in two months unless it opens the floodgates of the Isahaya Bay dike in Nagasaki Prefecture as ordered by a high court.

It also ordered the floodgates, closed in 1997 as part of a government reclamation project opposed by local fishermen, to remain open for five years for assessment.

After the ruling, farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the government will appeal the ruling to the Fukuoka High Court and request that the levying of penalties on the state for defying the high court ruling be halted.

The state was given a two-month reprieve on paying the penalty, which is ¥490,000 per day, or ¥10,000 for each of the 49 fishermen involved in the case.

Fishermen in Saga Prefecture are calling for the floodgates to be opened, but in neighboring Nagasaki Prefecture, farmers concerned about possible salt damage from the seawater have sought to stop the opening of the floodgates.

The Saga court ruling came five months after the Nagasaki District Court issued an injunction against opening the floodgates — a move sought by the farmers — and nearly four months after the state missed a Dec. 20 deadline to open them.

The fishermen are seeking a penalty of ¥100 million a day from the state. Lawyers representing them said that while they are not concerned about the size of the penalty ordered, they intend to call for a heavier penalty if the state does not open the floodgates.

As to whether the state has a compelling reason for not complying with the high court ruling ordering the floodgates be opened, the presiding judge, Masashi Hatae of the Saga court, said the state has “failed to take steps to facilitate opening the gates,” including negotiations with residents.

“The fishermen’s right to fish, which provides their livelihoods, was infringed upon,” he added.

The government had argued that the floodgates cannot be opened solely by the will of the state, noting that preliminary work for opening them was stymied by opposition from the farmers who work the reclaimed land. It had also cited the Nagasaki court’s injunction for not opening the gates.

The judge on Friday said, however, that the injunction “will not be the reason for obstructing” the execution of the high court ruling.

The high court’s December 2010 ruling ordered the state to open the floodgates for five years to see if there is a link between the reclamation project and the decline in fish catches in the Ariake Sea. Opponents of the opening have looked to the Nagasaki court, which issued the injunction, for a decision to compel the state to pay a penalty of ¥250 billion if it opens the gates.

Farming began on the reclaimed land in 2008, creating about 670 hectares of farmland and fresh-water ponds to supply water for farming.

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