• Kyodo

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Memberships of fisheries cooperatives in the three prefectures of northeastern Japan hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami tumbled 24.4% in the years after the disasters, in a decline sharper than that seen in the national average, a Kyodo News tally based on data from their unions showed Thursday.

The sharp decrease came as members abandoned the industry after losing their homes or fishing boats in the massive tsunami or because of evacuating their hometowns due to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis, officials at the cooperatives said.

The total number of fisheries cooperative members in the three prefectures — Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima — had fallen to 19,910 at the end of 2019 from 26,325 at the end of 2010, around two months before the disaster, according to prefecture-wide bodies.

In contrast, the number of fisheries cooperative members nationwide stood at 285,813 in the fiscal year ended March 2019, down 18.7% from fiscal 2010, according to the fisheries ministry.

In Miyagi alone, the number of regular members of fisheries cooperatives — those who work at sea — halved, highlighting the severity of the situation facing the key industry that supports economies in the coastal regions.

The cooperatives also have associate members, which include family members of fishermen and those engaged in seafood processing.

The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations attributed the decline in its membership to a natural reduction, amid the country's graying population, and said that the average age of its members had risen around 10 years over the decade.

The prefectural body in Miyagi saw its numbers decline as members quit their jobs after relocating to higher ground as part of reconstruction efforts.

In Fukushima, where the earthquake and tsunami triggered a disaster at a nuclear plant, space for keeping treated radioactive water from the crippled plant is expected to run out by the fall of 2022 at the earliest.

The water has been treated using an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) to remove most contaminants, and the government is considering whether to release it into the sea.

As it awaits the decision, the Fukushima federation is bracing for a negative impact on seafood sales caused by harmful rumors about contamination, as was seen in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.

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