Japan ups earthquake damage estimates

Published on
July 7, 2011

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on 1 July issued an updated report on damages caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and actions taken by the ministry.

This updates a preliminary survey of damage to the aquaculture industry by the Fisheries Agency released on 18 May. That survey estimated damages of JPY 100 billion (USD 1.24 billion), while the latest estimate is JPY 129.3 billion (USD 1.6 billion) to aquaculture, and a combined total of JPY 1,207.4 billion (USD 14.97 billion) when including fishing vessels, harbors, and facilities used by both the catch fisheries and aquaculture.

Investigators estimated 21,506 fishing vessels suffered combined damage of JPY 153.7 billion (USD 1.9 billion). Harbor facilities suffered JPY 808.3 billion (USD 10 billion). Losses to aquaculture facilities like rafts, buoys and net pens were JPY 73 billion (US$0.9 billion). Aquaculture products, like killed or lost fish, seaweed and shellfish, amounted to JPY 56.3 billion (USD 0.7 billion). A total of 1,537 common use facilities suffered JPY 161.1 billion (USD 2 billion).

As of the end of June, the toll in human life was 15,511 confirmed deaths and 7,189 missing.

Within the aquaculture industry the greatest damage was to the wakame seaweed and oyster industries in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. Coho salmon farms in these prefectures were also hit. As a reconstruction measure, Miyagi Prefecture is urging private enterprises to pool resources and implement joint management.

Hokkaido scallops and sea urchins, as well as kelp beds, also suffered heavily.

Waves reached distant cities on the Pacific coast. In Mie Prefecture, in Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku Island, and in Oita Prefecture on Kyushu Island, farms that cultivate pearls, yellowtail, amberjack and sea bream saw damage to floating rafts, buoys and net pens. As in the Sanriku region, the power of the tsunami was amplified when it entered bays of the intricate coastline.

Besides recovery and repair of fish pens, expenses for feed must be provided before any revenues can be earned. Such fish as sea bream can take 2-3 years from starting juveniles until the adults can be shipped.

Besides the cost of repairs, loss of market share to competitors is a concern. As local seafood is replaced by imported, Japanese producers may find foreign suppliers in a strong position when they finally have product to offer.

Iwate and Miyagi had accounted for 80 percent (121,560,000 metric tons in 2009) of domestic production of wakame and nori seaweed. This market has shifted to producers in South Korea and Dalian, China. Prices for imported seaweed have risen 30 percent, and these sources, which used to make up only a small part of sales, have become firmly established in the Japanese market. Imports from South Korea have more than doubled.

Long-term change in Japan’s food culture is also a worry for the industry. Markets have been upset by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident and fishery officials are anxious that nervous shoppers may permanently change their eating habits.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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