One year after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region, harvesting of wakame seaweed has started in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. But the 3/11 disasters have left deep scars in fisheries of the region’s Pacific coastal areas. The central and local governments and fishing industry people need new thinking and approaches to revive the fisheries in the region as well as in all of Japan.

According to the farm, forestry and fisheries ministry, the 3/11 disasters have caused ¥2.370 billion in damage to Japan’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industry- about 26 times more than the great Kobe earthquake of January 1995 caused. About 90 percent of the damage occurred in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were hit by the 3/11 tsunami. Fish catches in December 2011 in the three prefectures were half of what they were a year earlier.

Although the 3/11 disasters have played havoc with fisheries of the Pacific coastal areas in Tohoku, attention must be paid to the longer trends affecting the nation’s fisheries. The fish harvest peaked at 12.8 million tons in 1984 but fell to 5.47 million tons in 2009. The average annual income of coastal fishermen fell to as low as ¥2.51 million.

The decline in the total fish catch is attributable to indiscriminate fishing — the most serious issue for Japan’s fisheries. It is high time that Japan introduced individual harvest quota (IQ) schemes, under which a specific fishing quota is set for each kind of fish in a particular area. Japan can learn from the experiences of Norway, Iceland, South Korea and New Zealand concerning IQ.

Currently, fishing cooperatives manage fishing rights, fish markets, fishing product processing facilities and the purchase of fishing gear and supplies. Thus the regional monopolies they enjoy have prevented many of them from becoming keen on cost as well as from making efforts to highlight for consumers the more attractive features of their products.

Seventy percent of Japan’s fishing cooperatives are in the red. It is imperative to reform fishing cooperatives so they can better promote the interests of both fishermen and consumers while protecting fishery resources.

Japan’s complicated distribution system for fishing products works to squeeze the profits of fishermen. They should be encouraged to find new distribution routes that will connect closely with consumers and increase their profits.

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