• Kyodo

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The nation’s coastal fishing industry, plagued by higher material costs, dwindling catches and an aging workforce, is implementing bold measures to turn around sagging revenues.

The measures established by many fishing communities range from maintaining the freshness of fish in shipping to developing commercially viable processed products.

The communities have also carried out a host of cost-cutting measures, including switching to lighter vessels and jointly operating them.

The steps have been introduced as part of nationwide coastal fishing revival plans undertaken by more than 600 fishing communities, with about 70 percent having achieved their respective income-boosting goals.

Among these communities is Jizohama fishing port in the southern Osaka city of Kishiwada, which is known for sardines. Sardines caught off the coast during the July-September season are traded at high prices at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.

Fresh sardines from Osaka are also shipped to other major cities, including Nagoya and Fukuoka. Since 2014, the fish have also been exported to China and Southeast Asia.

“A lot of time and labor are necessary in our work. In addition, we treat our products with care. So we don’t want to sell them at low prices,” said Osamu Oka, the 67-year-old head of the Kashiwada fishery cooperative. “We must think about how we can sell the fish at the price we want.”

However, in past years the brand recognition was weak for sardines caught in Osaka Bay. The fishermen then had to sell large amounts for small profits just to make ends meet.

The deal with the problem, the local cooperative switched to an auction system rather than face-to-face negotiations between brokers and fishermen, the way the fishing community had done business for years.

The step, introduced three years ago, was meant to increase profit margins and put an end to overfishing.

“Fishermen in Osaka had been exploited by distributors,” Oka said.

At first, all brokers were against the auction system, which is transparent in price formation but risky because there is no guarantee that all catches will be sold.

Initially, less than half of the fleets in Osaka joined the auction, fearing that their product would remain unsold.

But today, all of the 68 fleets registered in Osaka participate in the auction, and last year, whitebait prices were around 30 percent higher compared with when the face-to-face negotiations were in place.

Meanwhile, along with the increase in profits, awareness of resource control has grown strong in fishing communities.

Whitebait fishing is carried out four days a week, and when prices go down due to large catches, the fishermen shorten daily operations by an hour to prevent overfishing.

As of the end of August, 646 fishing communities across Japan had implemented plans to improve revenues.

Nobuhiro Nagaya, a senior executive at JF Zengyoren, a nationwide federation of the Japan Fisheries Cooperatives, said the coastal fishing situation differs according to the country, and “each region needs unique reform and measures reflecting the current conditions.”

“The next few years will be a chance for coastal fishing to change,” Nagaya said.

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