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Agricultural, forestry and fisheries production in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures has recovered to the levels before the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Such production has also been on the mend in Fukushima Prefecture, the other prefecture hit hardest by the disaster, but the revival is only half complete due to the long-lasting effects of rumors about the safety of local produce caused by the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

With the 10th anniversary of the disaster approaching, many challenges remain to be cleared for the full recovery of related industries in the disaster areas in the Tohoku region, including import restrictions imposed by South Korea and other countries.

The aquaculture industry in Miyagi sustained enormous damage from the tsunami. Production in the marine fisheries and aquaculture industries in Miyagi totaled ¥78.8 billion in 2018, however, higher than the level before the March 2011 disaster, thanks chiefly to the recovery of silver salmon farming.

In Iwate, such production stood at ¥37.8 billion in 2018, roughly on par with the predisaster levels.

Agricultural production has surpassed the levels before the disaster in both Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.

An official from the Miyagi prefectural government’s agriculture policy department attributed the rebound to a conversion of production from rice to strawberries and other products that attract strong demand.

But in Fukushima, as of March last year farming had restarted only in 30% of the areas for which evacuation orders were issued after the nuclear disaster.

Agricultural production in the prefecture remains below the level before the disaster, with product prices slow to pick up.

Aquaculture workers in Miyagi Prefecture have seen their fortunes fall and rise again in the years since the March 2011 disaster. | KYODO
Aquaculture workers in Miyagi Prefecture have seen their fortunes fall and rise again in the years since the March 2011 disaster. | KYODO

“Unfounded rumors about product safety had a strong impact,” an official of the prefectural government’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries department said.

In addition, treated radioactive water at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant casts a pall over the local fisheries industry. The central government is considering releasing treated water into the Pacific Ocean, sparking concerns over further reputation damage to local produce.

“Consumers would have a feeling of rejection and our products would not be accepted,” Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, said.

Posing a major stumbling block to industry reconstruction are import restrictions on agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and other food items that have been kept in place by 15 countries and regions due to the nuclear accident.

Among them, South Korea continues to ban imports of fisheries products from Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, as well as other nearby prefectures.

Sea squirt farmers in Miyagi, who had relied heavily on export demand from South Korea, have been unable to develop an alternative major buyer, and many of them are on the verge of going bankrupt, according to the Miyagi prefectural fisheries cooperative association.

A fall in the number of tourists due to the novel coronavirus epidemic has proved an additional drag on local industry reconstruction.

In Iwate, consumption slowed for abalone, although a prefectural official expressed confidence in the quality of the local specialty. In Miyagi, transaction volumes have dropped for Sendai beef.

In Fukushima, the consumption of flounder and other fish has plunged. A prefectural official said, “We have the double whammy of reputation damage and the coronavirus.”

The three prefectures in Tohoku also face a serious shortage of business successors in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries.

Amid the aging of the population, the number of workers involved in marine fisheries operations in the three prefectures stood at about 13,000 in 2018, down sharply from over 20,000 in 2008. The number of agricultural business corporations there has fallen by almost half over the past 10 years.

The Fukushima official said the prefectural government plans to ramp up efforts to encourage the migration of people from outside Fukushima in order to promote reconstruction of the industries.

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