Membership wanes in Japan’s fishery co-op

Fishery cooperative membership has fallen 24.4 percent in the period from the end of the 2010 fiscal year through March 2019 in three northeast Japan prefectures hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami – Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima – according to a Kyodo News survey.

The membership decline in Miyagi Prefecture was the greatest, with the number of regular members falling by half, the survey said. Nationwide membership fell by 18.7 percent, the survey found.

Fisheries cooperatives in Japan have priority access to aquaculture sites and fishing within three kilometers of shore; They do not cover the distant-water fishery. Regular members of the cooperatives are those who work at sea, while family members and processers can be associate members.

The declining numbers in cooperative membership are in line with a general trend of an aging workforce and lack of successors in the industry. For the disaster areas, the latest figures reflect three influences, according to the survey. First, in Fukushima Prefecture, there was a long period of restriction on the fishery due to radiation concerns, and some areas were completely evacuated. Some of Fukushima’s former fishermen have also maintained their membership, as it qualifies them for compensation income.

Additionally, with the destruction of vessels and port facilities, some older fishermen decided against making new investments in replacements. Lastly, the relocation of many coastal villagers to higher ground made work on the water inconvenient in areas impacted by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Despite the sharp drop in fishery cooperative membership, data from the Fishery Census released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in early March shows that fishery production in the hard-hit prefectures has mostly recovered.

In Miyagi Prefecture, the production value of the marine fishery and aquaculture industry in 2018 reached JPY 78.8 billion (USD 724 million, EUR 608 million), which was higher than before the earthquake, mainly due to the recovery of coho salmon cultivation. Japanese salmon farmers had a few good years around 2018 due to less competition from Chile, which was experiencing disease losses at the time.

In Iwate Prefecture, recent saury catches have been very poor, but in 2018, the landing value was as high as JPY 37.8 billion (USD 347 million, EUR 292 million), almost the same as before the earthquake.

Although test fishing has shown no fish over the government's acceptable radiation limits for several years in Fukushima Prefecture, the fishery is only recently reopening for full commercial harvesting, and is likely to suffer from a negative image if and when additional treated cooling water currently stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is released into the sea. Though the release is not expected to pose a significant health risk, the threat to consumer demand and perception is real.

For the country as a whole, data from Japan’s Bureau of Statistics of “Persons Engaged in Marine Fisheries (2008 to 2018)” – which may include fishery workers who are not cooperative members – shows that in 2008, the total workforce was 221,908, with men accounting for 187,820, and women for 34,088, or 18 percent overall. Those over 60 years old totaled 85,941, or 45.7 percent of the total.

In 2018, the total was 151,701, a decline of 31.6 percent. The number of men had fallen by 28.5 percent to 134,186, while the number of women fell 48 percent to 17,515 – 11.5 percent of total. The number of workers over age 60 was 65,410, or 43.1 percent of total, a slight fall in the percentage for the age group.

Photo courtesy of faula/Shutterstock


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