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Court rules Isahaya Bay floodgates must remain closed, ditches fine paid to fishermen

Kyodo

The Fukuoka High Court has ruled that the floodgates of a dike at Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture should remain closed, ruling in favor of the central government in a protracted legal battle over a land reclamation project that has been opposed by local fishermen.

The judgement will end a situation in which the government faced conflicting court decisions — a 2010 ruling that ordered it to open the floodgates and a 2013 injunction opposing the move.

The floodgates of the 7-km-long dike that encloses part of the Ariake Sea have been shut since 1997 for the government-authorized land reclamation project requested by Nagasaki Prefecture. It created 670 hectares of farmland and a reservoir for use in farming at a cost of ¥253 billion.

The floodgates have been at the center of a dispute between fishermen who claim the closure has damaged their livelihoods and farmers who fear that the opening of the gates will damage the farmland.

In a rare move, the Fukuoka High Court on Monday nullified its 2010 final ruling, in which it upheld a lower court’s decision in favor of the fishermen’s claims and ordered the government to open the floodgates.

According to the ruling handed down by Judge Kazuto Nishii, the government is exempted from paying a daily fine of ¥900,000 for failing to comply with the 2010 ruling. The fine has resulted in payments to the fishermen totaling ¥1.2 billion.

The court also said the fishermen could no longer demand the opening of the floodgates, stating their 10-year fishing rights expired in 2013.

The fishermen plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, but the latest judgement suggests that courts involved in a series of lawsuits over the issue are leaning toward keeping the floodgates closed.

Following the ruling, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said it will try to settle out of court with the fishermen by setting up a fund to support the local fishing industry.

Last March, the Fukuoka High Court recommended the government and fishermen reach a settlement without opening the floodgates, advising the government to establish a fund.

The high court said that opening the gates at this time would “heavily affect” the lives of the people who have engaged in farming for more than 20 years on the reclaimed land. It also cited the costly construction work required for opening the gates.

But the fishermen rejected the proposal, leading to the high court ruling Monday.

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

In addition to creating farmland, the government has said the bay’s reclamation will help protect local communities from flood damage.