Readers of this blog will be all too familiar with the fact I spent summer 2014 carrying out research in Fukushima Prefecture, with a particular focus on Iwaki City at the southermost tip of the Fukushima Pacific coast. Keen to conduct some follow-up research, feed back to people I had spoken to last year, and see how reconstruction is progressing, I returned to Onahama for a few days in May 2015 while in Japan.
Whilst the situation for people unable to return home remains grave and the re-establishment of business may be challenging, it was at least good to see some construction progressing. Here’s the new freezer facility in Onahama, which was under construction when I was here last summer – fish caught in deep-sea fisheries in places like off the coast of Hokkaido are brought here for freezing. Likewise, I returned to discover the fish market – in which I held a boisterous focus group with eight fishers – had been boarded up, and operations had been moved to a brand-new building further along the pier:
Although Iwaki coastal fisheries are still at the trial stage, with fish being monitored, released if consistently within radiation limits and then screened before sale, there is clearly great ambition for the restart of fisheries. Staff beamed with pride when we went to visit the new building, which contains a big wing for coastal fisheries (typically shellfish or smaller fish) as well as for deep-sea trawlers bringing in big hitters like tuna and bonito. In the new market there is also an extensive purpose-built facility for monitoring fish landed in trial fisheries, replacing the prefab huts that were used last time I visited. Here’s Yanai-san, a representative of the Onahama Danish Trawl Seines Fisheries Cooperative, in front of a new ice machine:
After all the support I got last summer, now that our first paper is ‘in the bag’ and due out later this year it was good to be able to go and feed back. Based on discussions last summer I gave a short presentation on the radiation situation in the Irish Sea, with a focus on how the Isle of Man monitors radioactivity in seafood caused by waste discharges from Sellafield. Presenting in Japanese isn’t as daunting as it used to be, but is still tough when one has to think on one’s feet. Speaking of being on one’s feet, not far from the new fishmarket is Aquamarine Fukushima, a large aquarium that has been playing its role in facilitating exchange on marine radioactivity:
Whilst the focus of monitoring by the Fisheries Research Station along the pier is on coastal fisheries, some of Aquamarine Fukushima’s scientists and communicators have also been engaging on fish caught via angling. In particular, in cooperation with local NGO UmiLabo (which translates roughly as SeaLab), the aquarium has held ‘TabeLabo’ events at which they take interested citizens through the whole process from catching fish through to dissecting, monitoring and ultimately eating! A central plank of their engagement is this idea of visibility, as well as their perception as being ‘neutral’ and distinct from the prefecture and an emphasis on explaining how they monitor and why differences in data may exist. I was gutted to miss the ‘eating lab’, but did get a steamed sea urchin caught in trial fisheires from further along the pier:
I also had a look round Aquamarine Fukushima itself, highlight of which was this salamander-esque creature that reminded me of something I had seen on River Monsters once:
I jest, but this time last year things I had learned from River Monsters represented the square root of my knowledge about fish. One of the side-effects of researching the social dimensions of marine radioactivity is that my vocabulary for different kinds of fish is now far better in Japanese than it is in English, and also that I’m far more aware of what kinds of seafood there are and where it’s come from. Whilst last summer’s research focused very much on how fishers and local officials work together, from now on the plan is going to be to branch out think about how communities and citizens more widely consider their relationship with the sea and the things that we put into and take out of it. To do that, though, first there are notes to type up and transcripts to analyse. Back to work!