A fish-hatted protester at a memorial service.
from JNN (J).
On Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four major islands, there is a large body of water known as the Sea of Ariake. Within this sea, Isahaya bay was once a vast tideland famous for its bounty of wildlife—it was a haven for migrating birds and home to a variety of fish and shellfish that filled the Sea of Ariake. Although storms caused the bay to innundate the settlements and farms on its shores periodically, local fishermen called Ariake a treasure of the sea.
All this changed in 1986, however, when a government reclamation project aimed at disaster prevention and farmland development began. The massive 253 billion yen (US$212 million) project set out to construct a 7km long flood control dyke across the mouth of the bay to separate it from open sea, to prevent storm surges and allow a large part of it to be drained and used for farming. Because the wall is composed of a string of mammoth gates that were dropped into place in 1997, it is often compared to a guillotine.
The removal of the bay from the ecosystem has caused a dramatic decline of in the number of fish and shellfish in the Sea of Ariake. But it took a red tide of unprecedented scale in 2000 to bring these adverse effects to national attention—the color of nori seaweed widely used in sushi rolls lost its color causing one of the worst harvests on record.
April 14th marked the ten year anniversary of the closing of the gates, and the project will be completed this summer. Nagasaki prefecture will then begin leasing a 700 hectare (1730 acre) agricultural area for “environmentally responsible” agriculture.
Not surprisingly, the fishermen who oppose the project find the environmental label laughable. At 11:00am on the day the bay was closed, they held a memorial service for the sealife that died as a result of the project. The approximately 150 people who attended the service offered silent prayers to comfort the spirits of a variety of creatures, such as the Goggle-eyed Goby.
The impact on the wildlife and the fisheries that depend on it has been great, and not limited to the bay. Stocks of many fish and shellfish found in the Sea of Ariake have declined to the point that fishermen are no longer able to catch enough to make a living. Some species, such as Tairagi, a large mussel commonly used as a sushi ingredient, have disappeared entirely from the area.
During a protest meeting which included citizen groups, the fishermen made clear that they were going to seek restoration of the tidal land on which their livelihood depends. Attendants of the meeting agreed it was unforgivable that they devastated the treasure of the sea, while claiming to practice environmentally responsible agriculture.
One fisherman, speaking to JNN (in Japanese, but also with streaming video), said: “How can we survive now? That is every fisherman’s question, including mine. Even though we go out fishing, we can catch nothing. I used to catch mainly Tairagi. What are people who live off the sea supposed to do for a living onshore now?”