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Japan’s Fishermen Squeezed by Abenomics

By Kei Kato

SNA (Tokyo) — “We Want to Go Fishing!” was the slogan of a rally organized by the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (JF Zengyoren) in Tokyo on May 29. As the yen falls, so the price of fuel is soaring and reaching a level that some fishermen say they can no longer endure.

The weak yen combined with the “harmful rumors” and import restrictions of various countries after the Fukushima nuclear disaster resulted in higher costs for fishing operations and lower prices for fish products.

Discussions of a ban on state subsidies to the fisheries industry in the context of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is adding yet another level of anxiety to the lives of this nation’s fisherfolk.

The plight of Japanese fishermen demonstrates that yen depreciation and the “three arrows” agenda of Abenomics can be a double-edged sword for many ordinary people. While the weak yen has some substantial positive effects for corporations, especially export-oriented firms, it also increases import costs that can be harmful to other sectors of the economy.

The fishing industry, highly dependent on fuel energy for its operations, ranging from boat propulsion to fishing gear to lamps, is proving one of the most vulnerable.

On June 5, the Fisheries Agency adopted emergency measures in regard to rising fuel costs for fishermen, which involved the government promising to strengthen the safety net for fisheries management.

“They have started meeting to investigate countermeasures for the soaring fuel costs,” says Toshiori Tanaka, Deputy Manager of the Fisheries Policy Planning Department of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, in an interview with the SNA. He added, “We closely work with and watch the government.”

Nevertheless, Tanaka also asserts the need for the street protest: “It was necessary to take action to show our determination to have discussions with the government and to draw attention to the situation we are in.”

One part of the answer to the dilemma is that fishermen must be more fuel efficient and lower their operating costs.

Yutaka Yoshida, chief of the Fisheries Promotion Division of the Aomori prefectural government’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, observes, “It is said that the fuel cost makes up most of the operating costs, but I think it is different depending on the fishing methods employed.”

Likewise, Tanaka himself noted, “I just finished a meeting on squid fishing. The lamps used to lure squids consume a lot of energy and we have to put in efforts to reduce consumption. In other words, we have to be committed to self-help.”

Also pitching in are research organizations like the Tokyo-based Japan Fisheries Information Service Center (JAFIC). Koji Takahashi, leader of the Information Planning Project Team, told the SNA that many fisherman make use of his organization’s satellite information regarding such matters as water temperature and ocean currents. “To find the best fishing areas efficiently is to save on fuel and also operating time,” he observes.

Still, if fuel prices remain high, or rise even higher, there will definitely be a limit to how much self-help and satellite information can achieve.

Yoshida of the Aomori government acknowledges the possibility that more will need to be done: “No particular measures have yet been taken by the prefectural government against the rising fuel costs, but we listen to the requests of the Aomori Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (Aomori Gyoren) and industry groups and, if necessary, we will appeal to the central government.”

An official in the Guidance Department of the Aomori Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, who declined to provide his name in a telephone interview, believes that the current situation is already too harsh for the local fishermen: “The emergency measures announced by the Fisheries Agency on June 5 are insufficient. The safety net is provided when the fuel cost hits 80 yen, but really it should come into effect at 60 yen.”

Fishermen like Tanaka still hope to see a positive effect from Abenomics soon.

Japan has the highest per capita fish consumption in the world, but it is declining while meat consumption is growing; consumption of fish has dropped at least 20% since 1995.

Tanaka hopes that higher wages brought on by Abenomics will see Japanese salarymen with deeper pockets visiting their local izakaya and eating more fish.

But, he sighs, “It takes time.”

Kei Kato is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.