In coastal areas in the northeastern prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi, hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, local fishermen are struggling to find countermeasures against poaching.

In 2016, four men were arrested after being caught red-handed by local Japan Coast Guard officers for poaching some 3,200 abalones in the Ogatsu district in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. Local residents have moved to higher ground since the coastal city was hit by the tsunami, leaving the areas by the sea vulnerable to poaching due to decreased surveillance.

Expensive equipment such as heavy machinery has also been stolen from blind spots created by a massive dike that has been built.

“We’re discussing installing security cameras, but how many cameras are enough for covering the large beaches?” a senior official of the local fisheries cooperative asked.

Abalones, seen as a bonus for fishermen, are regarded as an important source of income for fisheries operators in the Sanriku coastal area of the Tohoku region.

In the town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, members of the Shin-Otsuchi Fisheries Cooperative conduct patrols on a rotating basis.

However, the number of cooperative members has decreased to one-third of its predisaster level and the members have grown older as well.

“The patrols are a big burden,” a local fisheries operator said.

Since last year, in cooperation with a Tokyo-based company, the Shin-Otsuchi cooperative has conducted demonstration tests with drones equipped with artificial intelligence in its bid to monitor poaching.

Autonomously flying along a preset route, the drone captures images of those who poach detected by AI and emails the images to users together with location coordinates. The drone can operate during darkness as it features an infrared camera, officials said.

Meanwhile, fisheries cooperatives suffering from a decline in catches face limited budgets for measures against poaching.

“Devising countermeasures against smuggling is a challenge for the whole prefecture,” the head of a fisheries cooperative who joined a drone demonstration test in Kamaishi said, expressing hopes for administrative assistance, including subsidies for introducing such drones.

In August, the Miyagi Prefectural Fisheries Cooperative launched patrols in areas near fishing ports in cooperation with the Miyagi Prefectural Police Department and others. It also called on locals to provide information about suspicious people or vessels. Such patrols use vehicles of the fisheries cooperative and the police.

“We’ll take countermeasures steadily using information offered from fisheries operators and local residents,” a source from the Miyagi Prefectural Fisheries Cooperative said.

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