Fukushima's last fishing port reopens

In Japan, the last of Fukushima's fishing ports has reopened following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But for the prefecture, the struggle continues.

Bonnie Waycott

On March 11th, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off Japan’s northeast coast, generating enormous tsunami waves that left a trail of destruction. In Fukushima Prefecture, an ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was a double blow, with consumers subsequently shunning local seafood and ports closing along the coast.

Fish auctioned at a local market. Image: Tomioka town

But in June 2019, Tomioka Port, the last of Fukushima’s ten fishing ports, officially reopened, marking a new start for the local fishing industry as it attempts to move on from the disaster. On the day of the port’s opening, about 100 fishing industry members took part in an official ceremony after a special Shinto ritual. Fishing boats then sailed around the reconstructed port flying colourful large flags.

Masaru Ono, Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative. Image: Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative

Other fishing ports in Fukushima had already reopened but reconstruction work on Tomioka took longer due to its location and conditions at sea.

‘Rebuilding work was delayed because the port is close to the nuclear power plant, and the water is not always calm there,’ said Masaru Ono from the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative.

It wasn’t the best environment in which to move large workboats, and this had an impact on progress.’

Before the disaster, Tomioka had an annual catch of almost all conventional marine species, including suzuki (Japanese sea bass), tako (octopus), hokki (surf clams) and shirauo (ice fish). These were traded regularly across Japan. Today, the number of species appears to be increasing, with catches of flounder, spear squid, Japanese common squid, chestnut octopus, giant Pacific octopus, sea bream, sea perch, sea cucumber and conger eel.

Although other species have disappeared due to rising sea temperatures, Toru Takahashi, the head of an association of trawler vessel owners in Haragama, Fukushima Prefecture, says he would like to see the area become the world’s number one fishing ground one day.

The suite of equipment used for regular radiation inspection. Image: Tomioka town

‘It has a lot of potential, and we also want to take our misfortunes from the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild, move forward and ensure that we leave plenty of natural resources behind for the next generation,’ he said.

Damage to Tomioka Port was extensive. As well as the port itself, the tsunamis destroyed all facilities belonging to fisheries cooperatives, including management offices, cargo and freight-handling facilities and grounding facilities. Ten out of 13 fishing boats were washed away and all fishing gear was lost.

Read more about Tomioka Port/