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Fukushima fishing coop sets haul target for 1st time since 2011 disaster

A fisherman examines the first haul after the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations compiled a recovery plan, in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sept. 2, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuro Tamaki)

The fisheries cooperative federation in Fukushima Prefecture, hit hard by the nuclear crisis, has set a haul target for the first time since the outbreak of the disaster.

The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations incorporated the numerical target in its disaster recovery plan it recently worked out in an effort to resume full-scale fishing operations.

Specifically, the federation aims to increase haul amounts by all 23 trawlers operating off the Soma district, northern Fukushima Prefecture, from 23% of the 2010 level before the outbreak of the disaster to 61% by 2024. If the target is met, the total haul amount by all 23 vessels will come to 2,888 metric tons, 2.6 times the volume of last year.

Tetsu Nozaki, head of the federation, expressed hope that trawl fishing will play a leading role in the local fisheries industry's recovery from the disaster.

"The ultimate goal is the full revival of the Fukushima fisheries industry. I hope that those involved in trawl fishing will first achieve their targets and bring ripple effects to other types of fishing," said Nozaki.

The federation's recovery plan was recognized in July as a fisheries recovery assistance project subject to government subsidies. Under the project, designated fishermen hit by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis are entitled to central government subsidies to cover part of the costs of repairing their damaged boats and other expenses.

This is the first time that fishing operations on a trial basis in Fukushima Prefecture have been recognized as subject to the subsidies.

The amount of fishery resources off Fukushima in northeastern Japan has recovered due to test operations in which the haul levels were reduced significantly. After repeatedly monitoring radiation levels in fish caught off Fukushima, restrictions placed on the types of fish that can be caught and fishing grounds where operations can be conducted have almost been removed, allowing the federation to set numerical targets.

The owners of the 23 vessels will compile their respective monthly operation plans. Under their proposals, fishermen aboard these boats will: expand their hours of operation and fishing grounds; help young people accumulate fishing experience; and increase hauls to encourage brokers and fishing processors to make more capital investments and create more employment opportunities.

There were about 100 fisheries brokers in Soma before the disaster, but the number has since decreased to 27 because many lost their facilities to tsunami and others were hit hard by the suspension of fishing due to the nuclear catastrophe.

Prior to the disaster, there had been fears that fishery resources off Fukushima could be depleted because of overfishing.

To prevent a recurrence, the fisheries federation is poised to join hands with research institutes in managing fishery resources in the area.

However, the possibility that radioactively contaminated water accumulating on the premises of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station will be released into the sea after treatment has cast a shadow over the Fukushima fishing industry's disaster recovery.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant, estimates that tanks holding contaminated water will be full in summer 2022.

The national government and TEPCO have clarified that releasing the water into the sea after treatment is an option. But Fukushima fishermen have voiced stiff opposition to such a disposal method. Even after treatment, radioactive tritium will remain in the water.

Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada told a news conference, "Although I'm not the minister in charge, I believe there's no choice but to dump the water (into the ocean) and dilute it," sparking controversy. He was quick to add at the same news conference that "it is extremely important for the whole government to respond to possible harmful rumors on Fukushima products triggered by the release of the water into the sea and fishermen's suffering."

In an online survey conducted by Naoya Sekiya, associate professor of disaster information at the University of Tokyo, this past March, 20% of Fukushima Prefecture residents and 20% of those outside the prefecture responded that they do not want to buy fisheries products from the prefecture. When asked what if contaminated water were to be released into the sea after treatment, the figures for Fukushima residents and others rose to 31% and 30%, respectively.

Based on the survey results, Sekiya expressed fears that if the government and TEPCO were to go ahead with the release of the water into the sea without further measures, it would cause additional economic losses, and voiced opposition to such a release.

"The release of the water would damage the sense of reassurance accumulated through test fishing, cause the prices of local fish to plummet and fishermen to lose enthusiasm about fishing, thereby dealing a fatal blow to the Fukushima fishing industry," he warned.

(Japanese original by Ryusuke Takahashi, Fukushima Bureau, Hideo Takahashi, Minamisoma Local Bureau, Tatsushi Inui, Iwaki Local Bureau, and Ai Oba, Tokyo Science & Environment News Department)

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