8 YEARS SINCE QUAKE: All fishing ports in Fukushima now operating as Tomioka reopens

23 July 2019

Tomioka fishing port in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Tomioka reopened on July 26 after a hiatus of eight years and four months since it was hit hard by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Thus all 10 affected fishing ports in the prefecture have now been brought back into operation.

In Tomioka, a ceremony was held at the port the same day to mark the return of evacuated fishing boats. The prefectural government, Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations and other parties concerned intend to make it an impetus to spur the expansion of test fishing operations and the launch of full operations. They will also redouble efforts to dispel concerns stemming from the disaster and restore the lost brand power of local marine resources, both challenging issues facing the local fisheries industry.

Tomioka port is located about 10 kilometers south of the crippled nuclear power plant. Before the disaster, it had an annual haul of about 48 tons of fish, including “hirame” left-eyed founder, “karei” right-eyed flounder and “shirauo” icefish. They used to be traded at high prices in the Tokyo metropolitan region and other areas.

Tsunami caused by the quake, rising as high as 21 meters, destroyed Tomioka port facilities, including breakwaters, a wharf for berthing boats and seawalls. Disaster assessment had been delayed as the port area was inside an evacuation zone affected by the nuclear accident until 2017. But work to restore the breakwaters and wharf was completed by last March as was construction of joint facilities, including a warehouse for storing fishing equipment and a facility to land boats for washing and other works.

According to the Tomioka town office, a total of eight fishing boats, including five which entered the port at the homecoming ceremony, are scheduled to return from evacuation elsewhere, including fishing ports in Iwaki city and Namie town’s Ukedo.

The prefectural government began reconstruction work at the 10 fishing ports in fiscal 2011 and completed it at nine of them, including Tomioka port, by fiscal 2018 that ended last March. Restoration work will continue at Ukedo port until the next fiscal year but it became possible for boats to dock there in 2017. With Tomioka port reopened, ships can now come alongside the pier at all 10 ports.

Fish catches from test operations in waters off the prefectural coast have been increasing year after year. In fiscal 2018, 4,010 tons of fish were hauled, up about 20% from the previous year. Fish species covered have increased sharply, numbering 198 (as of July 26). The federation believes the resumption of all 10 ports will boost the motivation of fishermen, leading to greater catches.

But shipment restrictions remain on five species -- cherry salmon, “murasoi” spotbelly rockfish, “kasago” marbled rockfish, “binosugai” quahogs (chowder clams) and “komonkasube” common skate -- because they differ in their range of habitat and fishing seasons, making it difficult to secure a given catch of samples necessary to conduct radioactive checks to remove such curbs. The prefecture, the federation and other parties concerned hope to resume full fishing operations as soon as possible by catching these marine species in a planned manner in suitable areas.

The Fukushima government plans to promote acquisition of the “Marine Eco-label (MEL),” a domestic certificate awarded to seafood hauled while giving due consideration to the management of maritime resources, in an effort to dissipate reputational damage and restore brand power.

Following the resumption of operations at all the fishing ports in Fukushima, an official of the local government’s fisheries section said the prefecture “will continue supporting efforts to resume full-fledged operations while listening to fishermen’s views in an attentive manner.”

Tetsu Nozaki, head of the federation, said he expects the relaunch of Tomioka port “will be bright news in the disaster-affected areas where difficulties continue” and that it “will accelerate post-disaster recovery.”

Kanji Tachiai, chairman of the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association, said he was “glad to see the long awaited reopening of Tomioka fishing port,” adding that he “will seek the start of full operations on a new note.”

【Photo】 Fishing boats running up big-catch flags leave Tomioka fishing port which has reopened for the first time in eight years and four months.

(Translated by Kyodo News)