20111108-Greenpeace Japan fish GP02DCC.jpg
Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation
The huge tsunami following the March 2011 earthquake damaged more than 300 fishing ports in seven prefectures, including Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The Fisheries Agency says the damage totaled about $11 billion. Aquafarming industries in the region were also severely damaged, particularly in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, where production of oysters and wakame seaweed is widespread.

The March 11 tsunami made unusable about 90 percent of the 29,000 fishing boats in disaster-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The total catch, excluding farmed fish, in the three prefectures before the tsunami was 446,300 tons, accounting for 10 percent of Japan’s catch.

In May Kyodo reported: “The Japanese aquaculture industry suffered more than ¥100 billion in damage, or a quarter of its annual output, from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. In tsunami-ravaged Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, the damage was particularly severe for oyster and "wakame" (brown seaweed) farming, the survey by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said. The tsunami also dealt a heavy blow to central Ibaraki, Chiba and Fukushima prefectures, and even the southwestern prefectures of Mie, Kochi, Oita. [Source: Kyodo, May 19, 2011]

The tsunami devastated sea squirt fisheries and salmon farms in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, which account for 95 percent of their respective markets in Japan. Hoya (sea squirt) farm were obliterated right before the harvesting season. “Fishermen in various coastal regions also took damage as various species, including white salmon, red sea bream and yellowtail, either died or were lost during the tsunami-quake disaster, the officials said. Miyagi was in the worst shape, with damages totaling ¥51.8 billion, followed by Iwate with ¥24.2 billion and Hokkaido with ¥15.8 billion. Hokkaido's industry incurred massive financial damage to such products as scallops, sea urchin and kelp. In Mie Prefecture, farms that cultivate pearl, red sea bream and other marine products suffered a combined ¥3.7 billion in damage, while farms in Kochi Prefecture that were raising yellowtail and other marine products lost ¥200 million.”

An official close to a fishermen's association said some will have to start again from scratch. He told Kyodo: "We also have to meet the challenge of securing funds for a range of expenses, including feed," bringing attention to the fact that fish, such as red sea bream, take two to three years before they can be shipped to market. A fisheries cooperative federation in Ibaraki Prefecture on Wednesday demanded that ¥425 million in damages be paid by Tokyo Electric Power Co. to compensate for losses caused by radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Fishing Industry in the Tsunami-Stricken Region before the Disaster

Fishing ports and aquafarming facilities on the nation's Pacific coast, especially those in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, were severely damaged by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. The waters off the Sanriku region, where the Oyashio current and the Kuroshio current meet, were known one of the world's best fishing areas, where many varieties could be caught. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2011]

The region's shorelines were jagged and undulating, which provided natural, sheltered locations for ports. Kesennuma and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture have long been bases for offshore and deep-sea fishing of bonito, tuna and other fish. Fishing boats from all over the nation gathered in ports around these cities, near the many wholesale markets and seafood-processing facilities that were in the area. Sheltered bays were well-suited for fish and seaweed farming. Oysters and other shellfish, and seaweed such as wakame and kelp were produced in large quantities in the region.

Fishery production in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures was 135 billion yen in 2009, which accounted for about 10 percent of the country's total. The three prefectures' total catch in 2009 amounted to 654,000 tons, accounting for about 12 percent of the national haul. In monetary terms, the haul was valued at 135 billion yen, accounting for about 10 percent of the nation's total.

About 40 percent of southern bluefin tuna and about 30 percent of saury were unloaded at ports in the three prefectures. Oysters farmed in the three prefectures accounted for about 30 percent of the nation's total, and sea urchin about 20 percent. About 80 percent of farmed wakame in the nation came from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. Wakame from these areas was valued higher than that from other prefectures. Shark fins from Kesennuma and dried wild abalone from Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, fetched high prices in China and other countries.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami damaged almost all of the 263 fishing ports in the three prefectures and destroyed nearly 500 marine product processing plants in the region. The recovery of the fishing industry is critical for the revitalization of the devastated regional economy.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2011]

"Processing plants and refrigeration facilities were destroyed, and there's no way to transport marine products to consumers," said Prof. Masayuki Komatsu of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. "It's necessary to rebuild facilities and a production system encompassing every aspect of the business, from harvesting marine products to sales."

The number of fishing boats washed out to sea or grounded inland is reported at 18,610, but this figure represents only those reported to the agency. The three prefectures still have not been able to tally the exact numbers, and it is estimated that the number of fishing boats damaged by the tsunami will likely increase. Some ports suffered major land loss in the disaster. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2011]

Because of debris washed into the ocean, there are many areas where fishing activities cannot resume. Broken wood from aquafarming floats and other debris is floating in the water around fishing ports, and cars, roofs and boats have sunk to the seafloor. Debris has also washed into offshore fishing grounds. The total volume "is so massive, we can't determine how much there is," a representative of the Iwate prefectural government's Fishing Ports and Regions Division said.

Seafood-processing facilities were also devastated by the tsunami. In Miyagi Prefecture, more than 70 percent of the more than 400 such facilities were destroyed or seriously damaged. Most of the 35 fish markets in the three prefectures, as well as the freezer and refrigeration facilities necessary for keeping the fish fresh were also damaged.

The agency estimated that, as of May 30, the damage to the national fishing industry from the March 11 tsunami was 902.3 billion yen. In the three prefectures, 21,444 people worked in the fisheries industry in 2008. About 40 percent of the people engaged in fishery work in this country are aged 60 or older. If reconstruction work is delayed, it will severely harm employment in the region.

Fishermen Affected by the Earthquake and Tsunami

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Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation
Fishermen were arguably the people devastated most by the earthquake and tsunami. Many lost their homes — as they tended to be near the sea in fishing towns annihilate by the tsunami — and their fishing boats too. Those that managed to get back work and go back out to sea had to deal with worries about radiation leaks into the sea from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The seas off the area struck by the tsunami were Japan’s largest fishing ground and the tsunami struck just as the main fishing season was beginning.

Fishermen were outraged when 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive water was released into the sea in early April and high levels of radioactivity were detected in sea water and some radioactivity was found in caught fish. The head of TEPCO apologized to fishermen as they presented him a formal complaint. After the release the government set consumption limits for radioactive iodine (2,000 becquerels per kilogram).

Even when fish was caught that wasn’t contaminated with radioactivity fishermen or the levels of radioactivity found in fish were within ranges deemed safe by the government they had to deal with rumors that the fish was dangerous to eat or worries by shoppers that it might be dangerous. Many fishermen gave up on fishing because they prices they were paid at markets was not enough to cover their fuel and labor costs and other expenses.

The costs of compensating fishermen is going to be very high. About 20,000 fishing boats, mainly in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, were destroyed or badly damaged and likely will need to be covered by the public insurance system. It has been estimated that the government fishing vessel insurance system will be short hundreds of millions of dollars and the national government will have to pay the rest.

Problems Faced by Fishermen After the 2011 Tsunami

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Most of the estimated 25 billion yen worth of damage done to scallop and oyster farms off the Sanriku Coast by the March 11 tsunami will not be covered by a fisheries mutual aid insurance program, because cultivation of the shellfish was at too early a stage. It takes about three years to cultivate scallops and oysters to the point at which they are ready to be harvested and shipped to market.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 22, 2011]

The mutual aid insurance program in question is designed specifically for shellfish farmers, and covers only shellfish that are nearly ready for harvesting and shipment. No payments are provided for shellfish more than one year away from their harvest season. Most of the shellfish destroyed by the tsunami were too young to qualify for coverage, leaving many local fishermen at a loss.

Other fishermen had shellfish that would have been ready to be harvested by next March, but they had not yet taken out insurance contracts for that period. They were planning to sign such contracts in April or later. The Fisheries Agency is looking into the possibility of revising the terms of the program. "There's a gap between what the mutual aid program covers, and the reality of shellfish cultivation," an agency official said.

Fishermen trying to resume fishing trade after the March 11 tsunami have been plagued by the massive amount of debris the disaster left in the sea, but cleanup efforts have been hampered by a lack of reliable information on both the amount and location of debris. Ports and fishing grounds are clogged with driftwood and waste from the tsunami. There also are many wrecked houses and vehicles in the water. In some places, fishing boats spend as much time collecting debris in their fishing grounds as they do fishing.

Oyster, Seaweed and Sea Squirt Industries

Many of the floats for farming oysters and ropes used for farming wakame seaweed were also washed away in the tsunami. Farms of hoya sea squirt--those in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures account for more than 90 percent of nationwide shipments--and those of coho salmon--known by the brand name Date-no-gin--were destroyed. It is not clear when hoya farming can resume as it takes three to four years for them to mature and be harvested. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2011]

In Tokyo's Tsukiji wholesale market, prices of hoya have been 50 percent higher than usual. Prices of oysters and sea urchin have been 10 to 20 percent higher.

Damage from the tsunami affected not only the Tohoku region but also scallop farming in Hokkaido and mozuku seaweed farming in Okinawa Prefecture.

Tohoku Oyster and Seaweed Harvest Plummet After 2011 Tsunami

In October 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “This year's haul of oysters farmed in tsunami-devastated Miyagi and Iwate prefectures will likely be about 10 percent or less of the levels in usual years, according to projections by local fishery cooperative associations. Miyagi and Iwate prefectures rank second and fourth, respectively, in the nation's list of oyster production prefectures. Located along the Sanriku coast, the prefectures also anticipate that production of wakame seaweed, normally accounting for a combined 80 percent of the nation's total, will drop sharply this year due to the huge tsunami that hit the coast on March 11 following the magnitude-9 earthquake. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 9, 2011]

“With its rias shoreline, the Sanriku coast is famous for its production of nutrient rich, high-quality oysters and wakame. However, most farming rafts were swept away by the tsunami, dealing a crippling blow to local oyster cultivation. The Miyagi prefectural fisheries cooperative association has compiled harvest estimates after surveying the restoration of farming facilities and farmers' production plans. As a result, the harvest is forecast to total 400 tons for shelled oysters, or 10 percent of usual levels, and 7,000 tons for wakame, about 30 percent of usual levels. It takes a few years before oysters can be harvested. In addition, it will be extremely costly to repair damaged farming rafts. As such, oyster harvesting is limited to a small number of farmers who suffered only mild damage from the tsunami.

Wakame Farming After the 2011 Tsunami

The Omoe fishery cooperative in Miyako and its local wakame harvesters once boasted the nation's largest hauls of farmed wakame. However, that changed when the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami devastated the coastal city. Since the disaster, because the effects on fishing were even worse, an increasing number of fishermen and cultivation industries are entering the wakame farming business.

“Reporting from Miyako, Masanori Genko wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The long-awaited wakame seaweed harvest season has reached its peak in Miyako, the first in two years. White steam rose up from the freshly harvested wakame as ice-cold water was poured over the blanched seaweed. Ongoing construction on the quay can be seen in the background. As the nearby port is far from being fully restored, about 300 fishing boats were brought inland. However, the long-awaited gift of wakame from the sea brought back some smiles to the harvesters' suntanned faces. [Source: Masanori Genko, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 2012]

“Yoshinori Yamazaki, 64, is one such fisherman. For nearly half a century, his family has been cultivating wakame. The disaster struck just one day after the wakame harvest began. Yamazaki lost 3,200 meters of farming rope, three fishing vessels, his workplace and fishing equipment. Yamazaki was also swept away by the tsunami, but somehow survived. His eldest son Hiroaki, 37, said, "We lost our house and felt so down that we thought about giving up our business.”

“But in late May, the Omoe cooperative bought several secondhand boats for its members from a distributor in Yamagata Prefecture. After going out on one of these boats to rake naturally grown wakame for the first time since the disaster, Hiroaki realized that he could not think of doing anything else but fishing, he recalled. About a month later, they resumed fixed-net fishing, which provided a little income.

“In July, they placed a shuro nawa, a rope on which wakame spores are planted, into the sea. However, they were unsure if the spores would grow like they did before the disaster. In mid-November, they dragged the shuro nawa rope from the sea and confirmed wakame shoots had grown to about three centimeters. Having obtained a rope to use for the cultivation, Yamazaki felt relieved.

“On Jan. 17, the Yamazakis harvested some wakame to thin out the one-meter- long seaweed growing on the ropes. After carefully packing the wakame in boxes, they placed a handwritten message on each: "Thank you for your help. At long last, we harvested our young wakame shoots. Please enjoy them." The wakame was sent to people who had provided them with food and everyday items following the disaster.

This season, the Yamazakis expect to haul about 20 tons of wakame, 60 percent of an average harvest. So far, the wakame has grown more than they had expected. "The sea is much stronger than we thought," a deeply moved Yamazaki said. Hiroaki said he would stop fixed-net fishing and stick to wakame cultivation. "I think it's time for a generational change [in my family]. I'll be the one who rebuilds our family [and wakame farming]," Hiroaki said.

Problems Suffered by Iwate Wakame Farmers

A shortage of farming equipment in Iwate Prefecture, hit hard by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, has fisheries cooperatives scrambling for rope in time to cultivate wakame seaweed for next spring's harvest. [Source: Hirosuke Nishiumi, September 22, 2011]

Iwate Prefecture produces the most wakame in Japan. Fisherman are hurriedly preparing ropes as operations to install them are set to begin at the end of October. The wakame cultured this year will be harvested next spring. In the prefecture, 19 fishery cooperatives started this season's cultivation in early August. Although only half of the normal amount of wakame is being cultivated this year, the prefectural government is providing financial support, as the resource provides income relatively quickly.

Producers of the ropes are in short supply after a large amount of fishing equipment was washed away by the tsunami. As it takes one month to prepare new ropes for cultivating the seaweed, fishermen need to acquire them by the end of September. If the operations are delayed, the growth of the wakame will be affected. The Kamaishi Port fishery cooperative plans to use rope normally used for cultivating scallops and oysters as a substitute.

Abalone Industry After the Disaster

Young abalone numbers growing wild in waters off Miyagi Prefecture have fallen more than 90 percent since February, apparently because the edible mollusks were swept away by the tsunami, according to the National Research Institute of Fisheries, based in Yokohama. The research center said the abalone catch is likely to suffer for several years as a result. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 23, 2011]

The survey also found the population of adult abalone had fallen 30 percent to 50 percent since February. Numbers of other edible sea creatures have also been affected--in Ishinomaki, the population of northern sea urchin is down by more than 90 percent compared to February, the study found. Seabed water in both areas was muddy, according to the researchers. In Kesennuma, the seabed was covered with debris such as fishery equipment, wood and iron frames, they said.

Most abalone culture farms along the Sanriku coast were seriously affected by the tsunami, and it remains unclear when they will be able to resume operations.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, in fiscal 2009 Miyagi Prefecture had the second-biggest abalone catch in the country, and the third-biggest sea urchin catch.

Riichi Miura, 62, a fisherman in Karakuwacho in Kesennuma, went diving for abalone in early August, having replaced two fishing boats that were washed away by the tsunami. Miura found almost no abalone shellfish. "We'll have to cut down our abalone catch for the next few years while we wait for the young shellfish to recover," Miura said.

Salmon in Japan Catch Affected by Tsunami and Long-Term Decline

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Iwate Prefecture's autumn salmon catch, known as the largest in Honshu, is down about 40 percent from autumn last year, it has been learned. Experts point to two major factors behind the sharp drop. One is damage to fixed salmon nets near the shore due to the March 11 tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The other is a continuous long-term decline in the number of salmon returning to the prefecture each year.It is likely the prefecture's total salmon haul for 2011 will fall below that of 2010, which was the lowest since hatching and releasing operations were launched in the prefecture in the mid-1970s. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 27, 2011]

“According to the prefectural government's Fisheries Industry Promotion Department, the number of salmon caught in the autumn salmon fishing season, which began in September, in 2011 reached about 647,000 as of Nov. 10, down 37 percent from the same period last year. By weight, the total haul up to November 10 2011 autumn was 1,856 tons, or 43 percent less than the corresponding period of 2010, the department said. Because much manpower was required to clear fishing grounds of debris and mend fishing equipment, only 72 of the prefecture's 116 stationary fishing nets were in operation officials said.

“Hauls of salmon in Hokkaido, which tops the list of prefectural catches of the fish throughout the country, also are reported to be poor for the second straight year. The lean catches of the two top salmon production centers have had an impact on prices of the fish and its roe, which are autumn and winter delicacies.

Recovery of Fishing Industry After the 2011 Tsunami

As part of an effort to help fisheries industries recover as quickly as possible, Japan’s science ministry is planning large research projects to develop technologies to cultivate marine products in upland sites and determine the impact on the marine ecosystem in seas affected by the tsunami in the Tohoku region. The effort includes: 1) deploying a new 1,600-ton research ship built with the latest technology to detect fish and measure seabed topography to determine how the region's marine environment was changed by the tsunami and access the impact of the large amount of debris deposited by the tsunami; 2) developing technologies to cultivate ground oysters, scallops and other marine products, which are specialties of the Sanriku region; and 3) accelerating research and development to create new industries by utilizing regional marine resources, such as production of cosmetics and biofuel made from seaweed. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 19, 2011]

Rebuilding the fishing industry is considered vital to getting Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures back on their feet, Among the ideas being considered is allowing fishermen to jointly operate boats and make ceratin areas “state-owned” so it easier for the government to fund them and allow governments to pay fishermen as “employees.” Similar ideas have been proposed for those involved in the farming of fish and sea products.

Many fishing boats ended up being salvaged and put back to use. A 47-ton whaling vessel, Taisho Maru No. 28 which was swept more than 20 kilometers from the shipyard where it was docked for maintenance was put back in the sea two months later with the help of two cranes. One fisherman who thought for sure he had lost his boat, the 14-ton Miki maru No. 5, forever when it was washed out to seas retrieved 750 kilometers from its home port of Ishinomaki on the Inubosaki cape in Chiba Prefecture.

On April 14, fishing resumed at Shiogama Port in Miyagi Prefecture. It is one of the largest ports in the Tokoku region. The first fishing ship to make port was the Hoyo Maru No, 18, a tuna trawler loaded with about 17 tons of fish, mostly tuna. There were no reports of radiation. Prices for big-eye tuna were ¥5,800 a kilogram nearly double the usual price of ¥3,000 a kilogram.

Fishery operators in Ishinomaki established a fishery reconstruction organization at the end of March and vowed to restart operations as soon as possible. However, securing necessary funds has proven to be very difficult. "There's been no progress at all," Suda said, referring to processing factories and ice plants near the coast that were destroyed by the tsunami. Masayoshi Suda, 57, worked in a coastal fishery in Ishinomaki. He was forced to scrap his fishing boat, the Ryotoku Maru, which was dumped inland by the tsunami. "I used the boat for 25 years and I was very attached to it," he said. [Source: Hideo Kamata and Yoichiro Kagawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, May 17, 2011]

In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, the Omoe fishermen's co-op is trying to repair fishing boats and remove debris from fishing ports, and has managed to make enough progress to enable the annual harvest of wakame seaweed to go ahead. However, it has received no help from the government for its mainstay business, cultivating wakame and kombu seaweed, and has no idea when it will be able to restart operations. "If we don't get prompt support from the government, we won't be able to harvest [the seaweed] next year. If there's no work, young people will leave," the co-op's head, Ryuichi Ito, said.

Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, known as the nation's largest bonito fishing base, aims to restart operations in June. But a prefectural official said, "The catch right after we restart is expected to be about 50 tons to 100 tons a day, which is less than one-eighth of the catch in an average year."

"Manufacturers can go ahead with their recovery if they have machines and equipment. But for the fishery industry, port facilities were destroyed and many fishing boats were swept away. It might take five to 10 years for the industry to get back to where it was before the disaster," Takeshi Minami, Norinchukin Research Institute Co. chief researcher, told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Private Funding for Fishing Businesses

Satoshi Ariizumi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Private small-lot funds have become popular in helping fishery businesses hit hard by the March 11 disaster. Private funds are viewed as more effective in supporting fishery businesses in the disaster-hit areas as the invested money can be traced easily, unlike money donated through major relief organizations. [Source: Satoshi Ariizumi, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2011]

“In the Urato Islands in Matsushima Bay in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, known for oyster and seaweed farming, most seafood cultivating and processing facilities were devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami. In April, fish farmers and others in the industry launched a small-lot ownership system in which funds are raised by collecting sums of 10,000 yen to assist about 40 local fishermen in buying materials and repairing their facilities, among other things. When they resume fish farming, they will send marine products, such as oysters, worth 2,500 yen to 3,000 yen for each investment as "dividends."

“Since this method of reconstructing fishery businesses was publicized on the Internet, about 145 million yen has been raised in about two months. Yoshimasa Koizumi, a 36-year-old fisherman who launched the fund, was pleased with the greater-than-expected response. "I want to live up to the [investors'] expectations in reconstructing [the business]," he said. In May 2011, marine product processing companies and other entities in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, established a similar fund called Sanriku Kaisan Saisei Projekuto (Project to revitalize the marine product industry from Sanriku). The annual membership fee is 10,000 yen for individuals and 30,000 yen for companies. The money is intended to finance rebuilding work for fishermen and small and midsize companies. The fund has already attracted about 500 members nationwide. In return, the members can buy products from companies they support at a discount of 20 percent to 30 percent.

In April, the Miyagi prefectural government proposed creating a special zone in which companies would be granted fish cultivation rights that have been preferentially granted to fishery cooperatives. The move is aimed at luring investment from the private sector by having companies hire fishermen. But the Miyagi fisheries cooperative opposed this idea. "Companies will leave the business if it's not profitable. We're against [the idea] of having these rights taken from us," one cooperative official said. Local businesses prefer private small-lot funds because they are able to use their initiative in operating their businesses like before. Investors, meanwhile, face the risk of failing to obtain sufficient dividends, so they should first check out the fund they plan to invest in.”

Rebuilding the Fishing Industry in the Tsunami-Stricken Region

The Fisheries Agency estimates that about 600 billion yen is necessary to reconstruct or repair the ports.

Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai proposed the creation of a "special fisheries industry zone." His aim was to make it easier for a wide range of private companies to acquire fishing rights, which have so far been allocated preferentially to fishermen's cooperative associations, and thereby open fish farming and other operations to entities besides the co-ops. "A new [fisheries] system should be introduced to make the industry attractive to young people and a wide spectrum of private-sector investors," Murai said.

Some council members were in favor of Murai's proposal, but it has drawn strong opposition from the Federation of Miyagi Prefecture Fishermen's Cooperative Associations.

Federation officials said private companies, even if allowed to enter the fisheries business, would withdraw if they failed to make a profit quickly. Officials also argued that there are no waters off Miyagi Prefecture that could be offered to companies other than local fisheries interests. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2011]

In Iwate Prefecture, which has many small fishing ports due to the prefecture's convoluted coastline, plans are being studied to have fishery cooperatives make bulk purchases of shipping vessels and aquafarming facilities, and let fishermen share them. Fishery cooperatives in such Iwate municipalities as Miyako and Yamadamachi have already adopted a system of sharing fishing vessels. The prefectural federation of fishing co-ops plans to soon purchase 200 vessels to enable Iwate fishermen to resume operations by the end of the year. There also moves to integrate fishing ports.

In Miyagi Prefecture, where 140 of 142 fishing ports were ravaged by the tsunami, a project is under way to eventually reduce the number of fishing ports to one-third of the previous level. The prefectural government plans to consolidate five major fishing ports in the prefecture, including Kesennuma, Ishinomaki and Shiogama, into "regional fishery hubs" complete with marine product-processing facilities and freezing and refrigeration systems. The Fisheries Agency also has drawn up a fisheries reconstruction plan to boost information networking between key regional fishing ports and small ports nearby, to promote the consolidation of fisheries markets and processing facilities in the region.

Major trading companies are is entering the fishing industry as governments in disaster-hit areas have high hopes that private funds can help rebuild the industry devastated by the March 11 disaster. Mitsui plans to invest in fisheries hit by the disaster and recoup its initial investment after they have recovered. The company expects to provide extensive support to fishermen, marine product processing companies and ice makers.The company will not acquire fishing rights, in the hope of making it easier for the company to gain cooperation from fishermen and build strong relationships with them.Sojitz Corp. a general trading company, acquired fishing rights through a subsidiary in Nagasaki Prefecture and is operating a tuna farm.

A huge freighter washed ashore in Iwate Prefecture by the March 11th tsunami was finally returned to sea seven months after the disaster. The bow of the 2,300-ton ship had been sitting on a road near Kamaishi Port after being thrust through a bank of the port. In October a crane vessel capable of lifting a 4,000-ton ship docked side by side with the freighter. The freighter was lifted using 32 wires and slowly winched back to sea over the course of about one hour.Emergency repairs will be conducted if divers find damage to the bottom of the hull. The ship will then be moved to a factory in Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan. Kamaishi City Vice Mayor Tadamitsu Wakasaki said he hopes that the removal of the freighter will help accelerate the city's reconstruction. The ship was blocking traffic and slowing reconstruction. [Source: NHK, October 20, 2011]

Fishermen Affected by Radiation

Fishermen were outraged when 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive water was released into the sea in early April and high levels of radioactivity were detected in sea water and some radioactivity was found in caught fish. The head of TEPCO apologized to fishermen as they presented him a formal complaint. After the release the government set consumption limits for radioactive iodine (2,000 becquerels per kilogram).

Even when fish was caught that wasn’t contaminated with radioactivity fishermen or the levels of radioactivity found in fish were within ranges deemed safe by the government they had to deal with rumors that the fish was dangerous to eat or worries by shoppers that it might be dangerous. Many fishermen gave up on fishing because they prices they were paid at markets was not enough to cover their fuel and labor costs and other expenses.

The costs of compensating fishermen is going to be very high. About 20,000 fishing boats, mainly in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, were destroyed or badly damaged and likely will need to be covered by the public insurance system. It has been estimated that the government fishing vessel insurance system will be short hundreds of millions of dollars and the national government will have to pay the rest.

Radiation, Fish and the Sea

Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote in the New York Times, “For the first time on Monday, Japanese nuclear officials said that some of the water used to douse and cool the damaged reactors had reached the ocean, raising the possibility that seafood might eventually be at risk, too. The officials said they would monitor the situation. Scientists generally measure radioactivity of local mussels and seaweed to assess the level of contamination.” [Source: Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, March 21, 2011]

“Experts suggest that levels would have to be watched closely because cesium 137 concentrates in fish muscle much as mercury does when it moves up the food chain from plankton to small fish to big fish. “I would definitely be monitoring fish populations in the area, since there may be certain items that should be avoided,” said Nicholas Fisher, a professor of marine sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.”

“In a worst-case scenario, said Paul Falkowski, a professor of marine sciences and geology at Rutgers University, a major ocean current that travels up the coast of Japan, across the Pacific and into the Gulf of Alaska could carry radiation to Alaska fisheries months from now. He said the International Atomic Energy Agency should monitor such movements, although he and other experts considered it highly unlikely that the current would take the radiation to Alaska unless the leak became far worse.”

“Many fish and the oceans already contain radiation, both naturally occurring and as a result of prior nuclear testing, said Dr. Fisher, who said that added current levels from the damaged reactors were not likely to be significant in terms of human health. But he and other experts say that vigilance is crucial because problematic levels of radiation can turn up unexpectedly.”

Fukushima Radiation Seen in Tuna off California

Deborah Zabarenko of Reuters wrote: “Low levels of nuclear radiation from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima power plant have turned up in bluefin tuna off the California coast, suggesting that these fish carried radioactive compounds across the Pacific Ocean faster than wind or water can. Small amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were detected in 15 tuna caught near San Diego in August 2011, about four months after these chemicals were released into the water off Japan's east coast, scientists reported.That is months earlier than wind and water currents brought debris from the plant to waters off Alaska and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The amount of radioactive cesium in the fish is not thought to be damaging to people if consumed, the researchers said in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Source: Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, May 28, 2012]

“Without making a definitive judgment on the safety of the fish, lead author Daniel Madigan of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station noted that the amount of radioactive material detected was far less than the Japanese safety limit. "I wouldn't tell anyone what's safe to eat or what's not safe to eat," Madigan said in a telephone interview. "It's become clear that some people feel that any amount of radioactivity, in their minds, is bad and they'd like to avoid it. But compared to what's there naturally ... and what's established as safety limits, it's not a large amount at all.”

“Because cesium 134 is generated only by human activities - nuclear power plants and weapons - and there was none in the Pacific for several years before the Fukushima accident, they reckoned that any cesium 134 they found in tuna off California had to come from Fukushima. There was about five times the background amount of cesium 137 in the bluefin tuna they tested, but that is still a tiny quantity, Madigan said: 5 becquerels instead of 1 becquerel. (It takes 37 billion becquerels to equal 1 curie; for context, a pound of uranium-238 has 0.00015 curies of radioactivity, so one becquerel would be a truly miniscule proportion.)

The researchers figured that the elevated levels of cesium 137 and all of the cesium 134 they detected came from Fukushima because of the way bluefin tuna migrate across the Pacific. Bluefin tuna spawn only in the western Pacific, off the coasts of Japan and the Philippines. As young fish, some migrate east to the California coast, where upwelling ocean water brings lots of food for them and their prey. They get to these waters as juveniles or adolescents, and remain there, fattening up.Judging by the size of the bluefin tuna they sampled - they averaged about 15 pounds (6 kg) - the researchers knew these were young fish that had left Japanese water about a month after the accident.

“Most of the radiation was released over a few days in April 2011, and unlike some other compounds, radioactive cesium does not quickly sink to the sea bottom but remains dispersed in the water column, from the surface to the ocean floor. Fish can swim right through it, ingesting it through their gills, by taking in seawater or by eating organisms that have already taken it in, Madigan said.Bluefin tuna typically have low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material, such as potassium 40, which was present in the world's oceans long before human beings walked the Earth. Compared to these natural levels of radioactivity, the amount contributed by Fukushima raised the level about 3 percent, Madigan said. He said there were probably much higher levels of cesium 134 present in bluefin tuna off Japan soon after the accident, as much as 40 to 50 percent higher than normal. Cesium 134 decays quickly, with a half-life of two years. Bluefin tuna excrete it on a daily basis and it also gets diluted in their bodies as they grow.

Kuroshio Current Curbs Spread of Cesium

A Japan-U.S. research team, Jiji Press reported, has discovered that the Kuroshio current, which flows off the coast of Japan into the northern Pacific, may have prevented the spread of radioactive cesium leaking from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. [Source: Jiji Press, April 4, 2012]

In June 2011, about three months after the start of the nuclear crisis at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant, the team collected samples of sea water and marine organisms to examine cesium levels in waters 30 to 600 kilometers off the coast where the plant is located. The survey found that cesium-134 levels on the ocean surface measured up to 3,900 becquerels per square meter, several thousand times higher than before the crisis. Even in areas 600 kilometers away from the plant, researchers detected areas with cesium-134 levels measuring 325 becquerels per square meter.

However, areas along and south of the Kuroshio current, off the Boso Peninsula in eastern Japan, cesium-134 levels measured less than 3 becquerels. "It is evident that the Kuroshio current forms a southern boundary for the transport of these Fukushima-derived radionuclides," the team said in a report published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Impact of Radiation on the Fishing Industry

Officials had said the runoff would quickly dissipate in the vast Pacific, but the mere suggestion that fish from the country that gave the world sushi could be at any risk stirred worries throughout the fishing industry. [Source: Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press, April 6, 2011]

In the coastal town of Ofunato, Takeyoshi Chiba, who runs the town's wholesale market, is warily watching the developments at the plant, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) down the coast. "There is a chance that the water from Fukushima will come here," he told AP that fishermen in the area still haven't managed to get out to sea again, after the tsunami destroyed nearly all of their boats. "If Tokyo decides to ban purchases from here, we're out of business."

See Radiation Water Release

20111108-Greenpeace Japan GP02DMS.jpg
Greenpeace Japan
testing for radiation

After radiation in waters near the plant was measured at several million times the legal limit and elevated levels were found in some fish, the government on Monday set its first standard on acceptable levels of radiation in seafood.

Image Sources: 1) U.S. Navy; 2) United States Geological Survey USGS); 3) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); 4) NASA; Most from Greenpeace Japan

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012

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