The fishing industry along Japan’s north-eastern coast has long been struggling. Even before the March earthquake and tsunami, youth were eating less fish and moving to urban areas instead of staying to continue the work of their fathers.
The tsunami destroyed or damaged almost all of the assets and facilities used by the fishing industry in the town of Kesennuma. Six months later, the Kesennuma port is functioning at less than 20 percent of its normal capacity.
“The local fishing industry was dormant for more than three months after the tsunami,” said Hiroyuki Kumagai, a director at the Kesennuma Fisheries Cooperative. “About 4,500 people were employed locally by the fishing industry and its related businesses before the tsunami, but only 400 of them are now able to work in the industry.”
As a child-focused organisation, World Vision is supporting the revitalisation of the fishing industry in Kesennuma and its neighbouring city Minami Sanriku in order to provide jobs for parents so that children do not suffer the effects.
“For child wellbeing, it is critical for parents to have stable jobs. By supporting the fishing industry, we are supporting children,” explained Rio Mochizuki, World Vision Japan’s livelihood team leader.
Commercial freezers are the first step to recovery
Massive deep freezers used to store thousands of tonnes of seafood were severely damaged or completely destroyed in the tsunami. Before the tsunami there were about 90 freezers in Kesennuma, but now only a few are left functioning. In the industrial area where the giant units once lined the streets, crab legs and fish bones still litter the ground outside where they were washed away.
World Vision will be providing financial support to help repair the unit owned by the Kesennuma Fisheries Co-operative, which can freeze 60 tonnes and refrigerate 3,000 tonnes of seafood.
“World Vision’s support will improve the capacity of freezing and refrigeration drastically in this difficult situation,” Kumagai said. The unit will be rebuilt and at full capacity by the end of November.
The local economy suffers in the wake of the tsunami
The Kesennuma Fisheries Co-operative was forced to lay off the majority of its staff after the tsunami.
“There were 97 staff working in the Co-operatives, including those who were working at our large storage freezer,” Kumagai said. “We had no choice but to lay off these staff because it is not functioning anymore.”
The needs in the industry are enormous, Kumagai said. “Literally everything was lost. We are trying to take short-term measures and mid- to long-term measures concurrently.”
In an effort to spur growth, the Kesennuma port provided its inoperable area to local markets and fish sellers.
“As Co-operatives, we started opening fishing markets at the port after three months in order to provide job opportunities as soon as possible,”
The magnitude of the earthquake caused the surface level to drop by about one metre, crippling much of the port and causing structural damage at many processing plants.
An opportunity to rebrand the industry
“The fishing industry was already slowing prior to the disasters,” said Mariko Kinai, World Vision’s earthquake and tsunami response manager. “The aging society contributed to decline in production.”
“Young people tend to choose jobs that are on land, such as at food processing companies,” Kumagai said. “The proportion of young fishermen who actually go out to see and catch fish is decreasing recently. We need to make fishery operator’s work more attractive, which means paying more.”
Part of World Vision’s efforts will be raising awareness of the fishing industry among youth, and helping their communities to emphasis its importance.
“The industry reaches a lot of other businesses, like shipbuilding, painting, hotels, and transportation,” said Mochizuki, World Vision’s livelihood team leader. “We are hoping to improve the brand of the fishing product in Kesennuma and get people excited about it again.”
World Vision will facilitate the creation of community-based task forces with members from the fishing industry. These task-forces will visit high schools in the area to educate students about opportunities in the fishing industry.
World Vision is also helping to replenish fishing equipment,seaweed cultivation equipment and small fishing boats that were lost in the tsunami. These will be provided to fishing cooperatives in the region over the next few months.
“There are many people who would have given up their livelihood and left here if they could not have any hope for the future,” Kumagai said. “However, support from World Vision and other NGOs have encouraged us and people in this area so much that we have become positive and can try again to rebuild this city and industry.”