Five years of trial coastal fishing in Fukushima: what is the situation?

The aim of this post is to summarise a new paper that myself and Prof Midori Kawabe have had published on coastal fisheries in Fukushima, five years after trial operations started post-disaster.

What is the key point of this paper?

The main message we want to get across is that five years after fishing resumed in Fukushima following the nuclear accident, local communities are still working hard to restore pride in their region’s marine produce.

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Fishing boat, Onahama port, Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture

What were the findings, and what is new or significant about them?

We found that citizens themselves have been very important in promoting and moving forwards fishing in Fukushima. Some citizens have set up their own groups to do independent monitoring of the radiation in fish, to provide an independent ‘double check’ to the data produced by the national and regional government. But what is especially significant is that most of these citizens are driven not only by a desire to understand food safety, but also to restore pride to local fishing through actions like organising tasting events and taking to social media to engage with scientists and citizens internationally. When we spoke to people within the fishing communities themselves, they were of course eager to understand radiation better, but more than anything else they were proud of the fishing heritage in their ports and villages.

We also found that the social and cultural effects of a disaster can be just as harmful as the physical and economic consequences. There are still problems caused by the place name association with ‘Fukushima.’ When I speak to my colleagues or give a public lecture here in Scotland and start by saying that I’ve been to Fukushima, people expect that I’m going to talk about the nuclear power station. But Fukushima Prefecture is half the size of Belgium and has a population of 2 million people. So there is still a lot of work to be done to raise people’s understanding of what ‘Fukushima’ is, and of the harm that can be done by assuming Fukushima Prefecture and the Fukushima Dai’Ichi Nuclear Power Plant are the same thing.

Why is this research important?

This month – June 2017 – is exactly five years since coastal fishing resumed on a trial basis in Fukushima Prefecture after the nuclear accident. Over that time, more and more fish species have been released for consumption as scientific knowledge improves and the radiation subsides. At the same time, though, there has been and continues to be a huge effort to manage the social side of marine radiation. This doesn’t mean just understanding and respecting citizens’ concerns, but also bringing fishers, scientists and governors together to decide on the most appropriate pathway for the restarting of fisheries in Fukushima. Although the causes of the Fukushima nuclear accident are clearly unique, large-scale environmental changes on our seas and coasts are going to become more and more common with climate change, so it is important that we understand how these kinds of changes affect society.

How was the research conducted?

Since mid-2014, along with my co-author Professor Midori Kawabe from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, I’ve been interviewing people connected to fishing in Fukushima. We have focused our attention on Iwaki District in the south of Fukushima, and have been talking to fishers, fisheries managers, scientists, academics, politicians and citizens. Over that time, I have been to Fukushima Prefecture three times, and am just about to go again next week. We’ve also been reviewing documentation on risk management and risk communication produced by the national, regional and local governments, as well as by the fisheries cooperatives themselves.

Who funded the research?

The research was funded by a Fellowship I received from the Japan Foundation.

Mabon L and Kawabe M (2017) ‘Making sense of post-disaster Fukushima fisheries: a scalar approach’ Environmental Science and Policy 75: 173-183

You can view the full paper here. If you do not have access, please let me know via l.j.mabon@rgu.ac.uk and I will mail you a copy.

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Hisanohama port, Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture

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