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Home » Archives » December 2005 » Efforts for Sustainable Fishery in Japan

Efforts for Sustainable Fishery in Japan

Friday, December 30, 2005 Posted: 10:22 PM JST

(by Junko Edahiro) - Since long ago, fish and seafood have been the main source of protein for the Japanese, who consume almost 10 million tons of marine products annually. Japan's fisheries self-sufficiency once exceeded 100 percent, but it has declined in recent years to about 50 percent. Japan is currently the world's largest importer of marine products, accounting for about 25 percent of value and more than 10 percent of the volume of trade in these products.

Japanese fisheries are in the process of shifting toward being resources managed through various restrictions. According to the 11th Fishery Census in 2003 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 1,608 organizations were engaged in fisheries management in Japan, of which 99.0 percent were managing fish catches by restricting the fishing season and equipment used, 91.5 percent managed fishing areas by setting rules on use and monitoring, and 84.6 percent managed fisheries resources by stock enhancement and monitoring.

Here we introduce three good examples of major efforts to promote sustainable fisheries in Japan. The first is in Akita Prefecture, where "hata-hata" (sandfish) was once a valuable source of protein for the people. Archives in Japan document the fact that hata-hata was presented to the Shogun, the powerful warlord in control of Japan's capital of Edo, 200 years ago--an indication of the importance of this fish. In the past, hata-hata accounted for half the seafood production in Akita Prefecture, but it declined steadily after reaching two million tons in 1969, dropping to 70 tons in 1991. The price skyrocketed and hata-hata became unaffordable even to the local people.

In response, the prefecture decided to estimate the total number of fish through various surveys, and set half of this amount as the total allowable annual catch, after fully prohibiting fishing for three years starting in 1992. In 1995, it estimated the number of fish at 360 tons, and set 170 tons as the total allowable catch. Moreover, it banned catches of small hata-hata with a length of less than 15 centimeters.

In the meantime, the prefecture realized that restrictions such as the fishing ban by one prefecture alone had only limited results, as hata-hata is a migratory fish. To deal with this, Akita and neighboring Aomori, Yamagata, and Niigata prefectures, which were also fishing hata-hata, began to manage fish stocks collectively. These four prefectures set no-fishing zones and closed seasons, and placed restrictions on the number of boats and equipment.

The prefectures have also been working together for the recovery of marine resources, by concluding a treaty declaring rules, for example, prohibiting the catch of immature fish shorter than 15 centimeters, and requiring their release if caught. On a topic that can involve conflicts of interest between prefectures, this is the first example of neighboring prefectures in Japan concluding a treaty regarding fisheries resource management.

They are also engaged in various other efforts, for example, creating artificial seaweed bed areas for spawning of hata-hata. With these efforts, the fish catch recovered in 2000, exceeding 1,000 tons for the first time in 15 years.

A second example of sustainable fisheries initiatives is in Suruga Bay, which is graced with views of the iconic Mt. Fuji, where three fisherman's associations of Yui, Kambara, and Oigawa towns harvest sakura shrimp (spotted shrimp). The fishing by the three associations is one of the largest coastal fisheries in the prefecture, earning four billion yen (about U.S.$35.4 million) annually. Their sakura shrimp fishery has been based on a rational resource management system since nearly 40 years ago, in order to protect sea resources.

Sakura shrimp grow to four or five centimeters long and are a kind of zooplankton that lives only for one year. Its peak spawning period is from June to August. The sakura shrimp fishing was formerly conducted all year round in the bay, but now it is limited to two fishing seasons, one in spring (late March to early June) and on in the fall (late October to late December), under the fishery management rules set by Shizuoka Prefecture and voluntary agreements by the local fishermen.

This fishery management started in response to the large drop in catches of the shrimp by several hundred tons between 1964 and 1965. At the time, Suruga Bay was polluted with wastewater from paper mills and a great amount of sludge that had accumulated in Tagonoura Port. Facing the resource and pollution problems, the fishermen realized a serious threat that their shrimp fishery would collapse in the near further if they continue their fishing.

Thus, heads of the three fisherman's associations sought for countermeasures from discussions involving researchers on fish resources. They came up with an idea that it was the only way to equally allocate the total earnings among fishermen, in order to stop the endless "race for fish" and control the shrimp catches for operational efficiency and resource conservation.

In 1966, the Yui district first started a new fishery operation on a trial basis among the three associations. This is called a "pooling system" and based on equal allocation of the gross sales. Validity of the system was proved by an incident in 1968 in which fishermen threw away as many as 50 tons of harvested sakura shrimp into the sea, due to the fish-price decline caused by a large catch. While the price fluctuated wildly, the pooling system was found to be effective not only in conserving resources, but also in stabilizing prices.

After that, the Kambara and Oigawa districts also implemented the pooling system. But then the three districts had a severe competition over shrimp harvest each other as they shared the same fishing area. Their rivalry became more intense, and they faced the risk of their resource management.

Meanwhile, the sludge pollution in Tagonoura Port became a serious problem for the community, so the fishermen mobilized together against the pollution. A strong solidarity was formed among them, beyond the differences of the districts, and they gained momentum to address their common problems cooperatively.

As a result, a consolidated pooling system was adapted in 1977 to manage all 120 fishing boats in the three districts. Allowing all the boats under the three associations to operate, the new system was thus established to distribute the sales from the shrimp fishing evenly to each boat.

Every day around noon during the shrimp fishing season, a fishing control committee, consisting of members from the three associations, discusses the fishing details of the day, such as the availability of the fishing operation, catch quota of the shrimp, fishing site, and departure time. The committee designates a flagship boat of the day in advance. When all the boats arrive at the site, the leader boat sends a message over the radio and they start fishing. After harvesting, boats that hauled their trawl net report each yield to the leader by radio. When the total yields that the leader sums up reach the quota set by the committee, the operation of the day is to be completed.

All boats then return to each association's facilities to land the day's catches of shrimp. After deducting a sales commission from the total earnings, the rest is divided into two parts: 53 percent for boat owners and 47 percent for the fishermen crew members. Each portion is distributed equally based on the number of the members respectively.

Mochizuki, an executive board of the Yui Fisherman's Association, says, "The sakura shrimp lives only for one year. Catching mature shrimp disrupts spawning, which would mean we couldn't harvest the offspring either. Shrimp resource in our fishing areas resembles the principal in a bank. We can live on the interest without spending the principal." Spending the principal because of temporary low fish prices or greed would lead to future collapse.

Marine resource management is often seen as a challenging task because the resources are difficult to measure and therefore it is impossible to know for certain how much of the "principal" is left, or even its trend of increase or decrease. In the case of the sakura shrimp fishery, a spawning survey is conducted every two days during the fishing off-season every summer, by checking seawater temperature, and the conditions of egg production and development. Calculating the number of eggs per cubic meter is one rough indicator of fluctuations in marine resources. The system introduced here is to share equally the profits from fishing, by setting the feasible catch of the year, and fishing according to the quota during the fishing season.

Mochizuki emphasizes that "without this pooling system, our fishery would not be sustained. We would have caught all the resources within two to three years."

Fisheries like this example, with marine resource management by a comprehensive pooling system, is rarely seen in Japan or other countries. The sakura shrimp fishery in Suruga Bay, which created such a system almost 40 years ago and kept its rules up to the present, offers some insight and hope for production systems in a sustainable society.

For our third example, we introduce an annual forestation activity by fishermen under the catchphrase of "The Forest is the Sweetheart of the Sea". In Kesennuma of Miyagi Prefecture, fishermen and residents of mountainous districts have cooperatively held an annual festival under that title for over 10 years, aiming at growing healthy forests as a water source to nurture abundant marine life.

This activity eventually raised awareness among residents around rivers and seas and led to recovery of marine animals from the increased stocks of eels and sea horses. Nowadays, this "The Forest is the Sweetheart of the Sea" tree-planting activity is expanding across Japan and to the world. According to the 11th Fisheries Census in 2003, the number of the fishery areas which had planted trees within the past year accounted for 26.6 percent of the total.

Out of 19 major fishing areas in the world, 17 are said to be on the verge of collapse or have already collapsed by overfishing. Fishermen in Japan used to catch as much as they wanted, however, due to the declining fish resources, some of them started various initiatives in different parts of the country.

In this article, we have introduced three initiatives to move toward sustainable fisheries. One involved collaboration beyond territorial boundaries, one a pooling system based on economic equality by dividing profits equally, and one an initiative to tackle fisheries problems by expanding the perspective from seas to forests. These three approaches provide some persuasive lessons on how to pass a sustainable earth on to next generation. The key for each of them is working with a broader perspective. We hope that these and other innovative approaches will ensure that a great abundance and variety of fish will be swimming in the seas around the world in the future!

Reference: The Use of Market-like Instruments in OECD Countries: Key Insights from an Organizational Framework.

First published in December 2005 by Japan for Sustainability (JFS). Many thanks to JFS for their kind permission to reprint the article at iKjeld.com.

Keywords: national_news

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