Five years after devastating tsunami, Japanese oyster farm rebuilds sustainably

Published on
April 12, 2016

Until five years ago, the eastern coast of Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan was teeming with aquaculture facilities.

That changed with the Tōhoku earthquake in March 2011 and the subsequent tsunami, which wiped out most of the existing aquaculture infrastructure in the province. However, with a history of aquaculture dating back to 1899, the region has rebounded from previous natural disasters, including several tsunamis in the last century.

Following the 2011 tsunami, the state government funded a three-year pilot program that attracted the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries Cooperative. Teaming with World Wildlife Fund Japan, the cooperative’s Shizugawa Branch rebuilt its oyster farming operations using best practices for sustainability.

On 30 March, the cooperative’s Shizugawa Branch received official certification for its oysters from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, following an independent assessment of its practices compared to the bivalve standards set by AMITA, a certification assessment body based in Japan. The ASC certification recognizes the co-op for its responsible environmental and social practices.

“Our place of work is the sea and after the tsunami it was hard to return to sea farming again. Not all of us came back of course. Many older members left the fishery,” said Toshio Sasaki of Miyagi Fishery Cooperative. “Members who decided to stay had a lot of discussion about farming practices for the future. We decided to set up a sustainable farming area in order for the farming to carry on into the next generation. We reduced farming facilities to one-third of that before the earthquake and the quality of the oysters improved. It now takes one year until harvest, where before it took three.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, prior to the tsunami, smallholders ran intensive family farms on small sea surfaces which were overcrowded and unsustainable. The tsunami provided an opportunity to introduce responsible practices. As part of the new approach to aquaculture, many small family businesses joined together to form the co-op, allowing better management of the farms using updated farming methods.

With the new accreditation, the Shizugawa Branch of the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries Co-operative became the first farming collective in Japan to achieve ASC certification. The accredited farms are situated just off the Pacific Ocean coastline in the southern half of Shizugawa Bay in Togura, Minamisanriku Town, northeast of the Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan.

“We are so happy about gaining this certification,” Sasaki said “We members of Shizugawa Fishery Cooperative Association lost everything in the tsunami; not only all our farming facilities but our homes as well as family and friends. Fortunately, the family members and small children who survived the tsunami gave us hope to start again.”

Haruko Horii, ‎the standards and certification coordinator for ASC, credited the community for its resilience in its commitment to more sustainable methods of fishing.

“This achievement is a great example of the resilience of the fisheries community in Myagi,” Horii said. “They are succeeding by not only rebuilding their community, they are also improving it. I am very happy to finally see the first certified farm in Japan coming from this area, and I believe ASC certification will bring further benefit to the community and hope for the future.”

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