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Japanese Fishermen Take Coordinated Approach On Locating And Fishing Tuna Japan, March 15, 12

A fisherman’s cooperative in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, plans to conduct joint fishing operations to rebuild the local tuna industry that was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Kesennuma Enyo Gyogyo Kyodo Kumiai, headed by Tetsuo Saito, comprises owners of longline fishing boats for catching tuna in nearby waters. The city is one of the nation’s largest tuna fishing bases.

In the past, the fishing boats operated independently. However, to rebuild the local fishing industry, the fishing co-op decided to take measures to stabilize the fishermen’s livelihood.

The co-op said that starting from April, 13 fishing boats will depart in four fleets.

Previously, each boat chased after tuna using fishfinders and the data produced by these machines was kept secret.

Under the new system, a control center inside the co-op’s main office in Kesennuma will receive data, such as the location of tuna, operating positions of fishing boats and expected catch volumes, from each boat. The control center will receive the data via satellite and transmit the data to each fleet by e-mail and other means. It will also coordinate and instruct where and how each fleet should operate.

The co-op will also instruct the fleets in which order they should return to port based on each boat’s catch volume and the freshness of the fish.

As the boats will collaborate to locate fish and share necessary information, the co-op expects the new system will enable fishermen to save on fuel costs and fish more efficiently.

In the past, when fishing boats unloaded too much fish at the same time, prices significantly declined. On the other hand, prices surged when catch volumes were too small.

Under the new system, it will become possible for boats to regularly unload fish, leading to stable prices, the co-op said.

In 1989, there were 64 tuna fishing boats based in waters near Kesennuma. The figure dropped to 18 in 2010 because of the lack of successors and declining profitability due to rising fuel costs.

Additionally, the March 11 disaster destroyed two boats based in the port.

There is also a significant difference in the level of business restoration among marine product processing companies and shipping firms operating at the port.

Even now, the city’s tuna fleet unloads most of its catch at a fishing port in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture.

Kazuhiko Miura, 54, managing director of the fishing co-op who came up with the idea of fishing fleets, said: “If we simply do the same things we did before the disaster, our business will continue shrinking. All of us will become losers.”

He voiced his expectations that the new fishing system would be successful.

Mitsuhiro Sato, 44, chief fisherman of the fishing boat Yahata Maru No. 11, admitted local fishermen are embarrassed about the new system.

He said: “We went fishing with a strong determination to not be beaten by other boats. This is why fishermen here were able to catch enough fish to be able to build a house after operating for one year.”

However, Sato decided to join the fishing scheme saying, “Without doing something special, Kesennuma’s fishing industry cannot recover.”