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Poor catches countrywide apparently caused by global warming are posing a new challenge for fishermen in the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami a decade later.

“It seems too bad to be true,” Takanobu Takahashi, 77, who has been involved in the fishing business for over 50 years in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, said, alarmed by the record-breaking deterioration of catches in recent years. He previously served as head of a buyers’ cooperative at the fish market in Onagawa, a coastal town hit hard by the disaster on March 11, 2011.

In 2019, fish catches across Japan, including farmed fish catches, totaled 4.19 million tons, the lowest annual total since records began, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in a final report in January.

Before the disaster, the fishing industry in Miyagi ranked second in Japan in terms of fisheries yield thanks to rich offshore fishing grounds created by the meeting of the Oyashio current, a subarctic current flowing southwest in the northwestern Pacific, and the Kuroshio current, a northeasterly flow. The ranking fell to ninth after the tsunami ravaged the prefecture’s coastal areas but is now at fourth, as fish markets, fishing vessels and farming facilities were fixed through reconstruction projects by the central and prefectural governments.

Meanwhile, the combined volume of fish landings at Miyagi’s four major fishing ports — Shiogama, Ishinomaki, Onagawa and Kesennuma — hit a peak of 250,000 tons in 2018, but slid to 230,000 tons in 2020. The value of landings at the four ports, which recovered to a predisaster level of ¥58.4 billion in 2017, has also been on the decline and fell as low as ¥47.6 billion in 2020.

The Fisheries Agency cited global warming as one of the factors behind the poor catches. Because of higher seawater temperatures near the Japanese coastlines, the fishing grounds for salmon and saury, which favor cold water, moved to far offshore areas where fishing is difficult.

Also, the agency said increased activities of foreign fishing boats may have led to a decrease of fishery resources.

Despite the dwindling amount of supply, market prices of fishery products have remained low.

“There are many reasons,” said an official from the Miyagi prefectural government. “A decline in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic has had an especially large impact (on prices).”

A shortage of fishermen is also a serious problem facing the fisheries industry in disaster-hit areas.

Under the collective relocation initiative implemented in those areas after the disaster, many fishing village residents had no choice but move to higher ground. Also hit by population outflows, fishermen, whose business is often a family affair, are having difficulty finding successors.

The number of people working in the fishing industry in Miyagi Prefecture plunged from 9,753 in 2008 to 6,224 in 2018.

Under such circumstances, a group called Fisherman Japan was established in Ishinomaki in 2014 with the goal of fostering 1,000 new fishermen and other professionals in the fishing industry. The group offers job information, training programs and migration support services. With the backing of the group, 42 people in and outside the prefecture have so far started working in the industry.

“I want to make the fishing industry an attractive area of occupation,” said Yukina Shimamoto, 29, who has been engaged in the group’s activities since its establishment. “There is a need to streamline product management, find ways to work more efficiently and change the business structure by reviewing the distribution system and promoting mechanization.”

Shimamoto, who moved to Ishinomaki from Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, after joining disaster relief efforts as a volunteer, also said, “I want to continue my activities so that Japan’s fishing industry as a whole will change for the better.”

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