As a result of the devastationcaused by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, fishermen in northeastern Japan are being challenged to change the way they conduct business in an industry that is all but recognizeable. More and more fishermen are challenging the traditional fishery systems that dominated the market before the earthquake and tsunami by founding their own companies so they can have more control over prices and other aspects of business. These fishermen-run firms hope to bring value back into the fishing industry by selling their products directly to stores and consumers instead of using the costly services of middlemen and the Fisheries Cooperative Association.
For many local fishermen the cooperative-controlled system seems ill-equipped to rebuild and sustain the industry any more due to the rise in national debt and changes within the market since the earthquake and tsunami. The industry has seen a significant drop in its import sales abroad.Both China and Korea have issued bans on Japanese food products including seafood. According to the Japan Daily News, South Korea widened its ban to cover imports in response to inconsistencies in radiation reports and the continued leakage of toxic water from Japan’s radiation containment tanks into the ocean. Last year, South Korea made up 40,000 metric tons of imports from Japanese fisheries, 5,000 of which came from eight prefectures in the Tohoku Region. The dire state of the industry is not being ameliorated under the current fishery system which decreases fishermen’s profits, creates unstable incomes and offers fishermen little say in the pricing of their products.
As an initiative to deregulate and reinvigorate the industry, the Miyagi prefectural government established Japan’s first ever fisheries reconstruction zone in Ishinomaki where fishing rights are granted to private companies in order to introduce capital and business knowhow to the industry. According to Iwate Nippo News, an oyster firm, founded in 2011 in the Momoura area of Ishinomaki, began distributing its first oyster catch directly to local stores and izakaya bars in Miyagi on October 15th. The firm receives financial contributions from Sendai Suisan and plans to send oysters to stores in Sendai are also underway.
On Monday, the firm’s 15 members caught an estimated 3.3 tons of fresh water oysters from the fishery and readied them for distribution.Monday’s catch marks the first since the firm gained fishing rights in September. “We’re short of hands, but we keep moving forward,” said sixty-six year old company representative Oyama Katsuyuki. “There are more order requests than we imagined, but we’re working at full capacity and hope to fulfill them,” he added.
While the aim to revitalize the oyster farming industry quickly is clear, the new deregulated system has been met with resistance from fishing cooperatives nationwide. Many are concerned that the private companies will undercut them and abandon the business if profits fall. Some have also argued that the initiative “constricts recovery by segmenting harvesting grounds.”
Rebuilding the fishing industry in a way that will add value and create a more sustainable market will require new marketing strategies, time and support. Deregulation may be the answer. Japan's moribund economy can not afford to lose one of its prized industries and exports.