March 31, 2017


Increase Revenues without Increasing Catches -- How the Sustainable Sakura Shrimp Fishery in Suruga Bay Does It

Keywords: Ecosystems / Biodiversity Food Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.175 (March 2017)

With Junichi Miyahara, head of the Yui Fisherman's Association

We often hear on the news that fish catches are decreasing all over the world. At the same time, initiatives to realize sustainable fisheries have been implemented here and there. In Japan, three fisherman's associations in Shizuoka Prefecture have used a "pooling system" for more than 40 years to run a sustainable fishery and protect marine resources. They are in the towns of Yui, Kambara, and Oigawa, facing Suruga Bay, which is renowned for its sakura shrimp (spotted shrimp) fishery.

The pooling system is designed to allow all member boats to operate, and shrimp fishing revenues are distributed evenly to each boat. In the shrimp fishing season, a fishing control committee discusses the fishing details of the day, such as catch quota of the shrimp, and fishing site, before going fishing every day. Each boat reports each yield by radio, and when the total yields reach the quota set by the committee, the operation of the day is ended. A sales commission is deducted from the total earnings, and the rest is split: 47% for boat owners and 53% for crew members. Each portion is distributed equally based on the number of boat owners and the number of crew members respectively.

Japan for Sustainability introduced the sakura shrimp fishery in Suruga Bay through an interview published in its December 2005 newsletter.

JFS Newsletter No. 40 (December 2005): Efforts for Sustainable Fishery

More than ten years have passed since that interview. Since then, how have the initiatives of this fishery changed? We visited Suruga Bay again to ask Junichi Miyahara, head of the Yui Fisherman's Association, about the current status and initiatives.

Pooling System Still Ongoing

The pooling system was introduced in 1977, and has continued up to the present. One change compared to ten years ago is that, from mid-June through November, fishermen themselves count the number of sakura shrimp eggs in seawater using a microscope and record the data twice a week, in order to protect the resource. They used to leave this task to university researchers, but now they do it on their own. The fishermen send the results to the Fishery Bureau of the Shizuoka Prefectural Government for the calculation of sustainable fish catches. Based on the calculated figures and daily market quotation, the fishing control committee sets the daily catch quota of the shrimp every day. Miyahara says with a smile, "It's not so often you see a fisherman using a microscope, is it?"

Also, during the fishing season, fishermen are required to check the size of shrimps using a net in each fishing area every day. If the size is small, they are instructed not to fish in the area. In this way, catch quota and fishing sites are determined based on data in order to protect sakura shrimps. Setting the fishing off-season is also a method to protect the marine resource. The fishery is now limited to two seasons, one in the spring (mid-March to early June) and the other in the fall (late October to late December), and for the remaining periods fishing operations are suspended.

Miyahara says, "Even if we have a good idea of creating products and offering how to eat them, we wouldn't be able to provide anything if there were no sakura shrimp in the sea. That's why we think we must make great efforts to preserve the resource. This year is the 123rd year after the sakura shrimp fishery began in Suruga Bay. It has been handed down to us from our ancestors and we hope we can hand it down to future generations."

These efforts have been recognized, helping the fishery in Suruga Bay acquire the Marine Eco-Label in Japan (MEL Japan) certification in 2009. MEL Japan is a Japanese scheme to certify fisheries that proactively protect resources and ecological systems, and to allow their products to bear the eco-label. The sakura shrimp fishery was Japan's second to acquire the certification.

Revenues Can Be Increased without Increasing Fish Catch!

Setting an upper limit to a fish catch based on the amount of marine resource means not continuously increasing the fish catch, or even decreasing it in some cases. If so, you may worry that the revenues will be reduced accordingly. However, surprisingly enough, the revenues of the fishery association have been increasing although the fish catch has not increased. The secret is in the association's new initiatives in "the sixth industry."* This section introduces three such initiatives: (1) establishment of a fishermen's market and eatery, (2) product development by the youth section of the association, and (3) shipments of live sakura shrimp.

* The sixth industry is a concept of initiatives to expand primary industries such as farming and fishing, from merely harvesting crops, fish, etc., into secondary and tertiary industries, such as producing and selling processed food items utilizing what they harvest as ingredients. The "sixth" concept derives from the idea of "multiplying" the primary, secondary, and tertiary industries (i.e., 1 x 2 x 3 = 6). Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) promotes the sixth industry initiatives.

Initiative 1: Establishment of Fishermen's Market and Eatery "Hama no Kakiage-ya" Directly Operated by Fisherman's Association

Yui Fishermen's Association established a fishermen's market, where marine products are sold, in 1999, and an eatery named "Hama no Kakiage-ya (meaning "an eatery on the beach serving battered and deep-fried seafood")" in 2006, which is the first eatery operated by a fisherman's association in Shizuoka Prefecture. Soon after their openings, the association faced severe objections from the local restaurants and middlemen.

Miyahara explains the reasons why the association established the market and eatery despite the objections: "Until then, the way of doing our business was just to ship what we caught here straight to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area because our prefecture, Shizuoka, is very close to the area. But it meant the local people could not enjoy fresh and delicious seafood. Delivering fresh catch to customers for them to enjoy is everything for us fishermen. And we want the local people to enjoy fresh and delicious seafood and to remember how delicious they are. This desire drove us to establish the eatery. In 2016, the annual revenues of the fishermen's market and eatery combined were about 300 million yen (about 2.59 million US dollars ), contributing greatly to the profitability of our association. On weekends and holidays, many people from both inside and outside the prefecture come to these facilities. And now, we are in a more cooperative relationship with the local restaurants that used to object, and they put out their sign boards to advertise at our eatery."

The fishermen's market is filled with various marine products including freshly boiled sakura shrimp and whitebait, which is another local seafood delicacy from Suruga Bay, and products developed by the youth section of the association, such as "Okizuke" (sakura shrimp pickled with special sauce) and "Ryoshi-dama" (boiled fish paste; literally meaning "fishermen's soul"), described below. The eatery, "Hama no Kakiage-ya" is in the parking lot of the fishing port and offers a variety of menu items, such as big "donburi," a bowl with different kinds of seafood on top of rice, and miso soup with sakura shrimp, in addition to the most famous "kakiage" (battered and deep-fried sakura shrimp, in this case). We enjoyed some of the menu items and they all tasted great!


Initiative 2: Product Development by the Youth Section of the Association

The Yui Fisherman's Association has a youth section, which consists of fishermen at the age of 50 or younger. Here we give you more details about the products mentioned earlier, "Okizuke" and "Ryoshi-dama," both of which were developed and produced by this youth section.

"Okizuke" is a product created by the Youth Section after several years of trial and error. It is a vacuum-packed freshly landed sakura shrimp soaked in a specially-made sauce. It is sold at the market and online and is becoming popular through word of mouth and a good reputation.

"Ryoshi-dama" is a fish cake made from paste using fish that previously were not sold on the market for some reason -- for example, for being below standard size. All processes of grinding, forming, boiling and vacuum-packing the fish are done by fishermen. This is a product into which fishermen put their soul, as its name suggests. Marine Eco Labels are affixed to both Okizuke and Ryoshi-dama.

In the past, during the off season, fishermen usually worked away from home. Miyahara said, "For fishermen to work here all year round, we established a workshop for making processed food products. Since fishermen make the products themselves, we can just produce the quantity for the market, but that is good enough for us."

Initiative 3: Serving Sakura Shrimp Alive

Sakura shrimp live between 200 and 300 meters deep in the daytime and rise to depths of between 20 and 30 meters at night. This is why these fishermen go out fishing in the evening and fish at night. It is said that only 2% of sakura shrimp caught are alive when they are landed. Therefore, in the past, it was only fishermen who had the chance to see live sakura shrimp. The Yui Fisherman's Association undertook a joint study with Mitsuru Takasaki of Ishinomaki Senshu University and a device manufacturer, and successfully developed a technology for keeping the 2% of live sakura shrimp alive, making it possible to ship sakura shrimp alive.

Live sakura shrimp taken from trawl nets that are hauled to boats are rushed to port and put into a special water tank. Sakura shrimp can be kept alive in water by injecting oxygen. At the same time, however, it is necessary to remove ammonia generated by live sakura shrimp. To this end, a special water tank was developed. At the time of the shipment, the sakura shrimp are put into a cylinder called Rocket containing bacteria-free water and oxygen. In the Rocket, sakura shrimp can be kept alive for at least 24 hours without any problems. The fishermen's desire to have customers eat fresh sakura shrimp was achieved, and live sakura shrimp became available for sale in a price range several times the usual price.

The Yui Fisherman's Association has adopted a sustainable fishery system without increasing catches unnecessarily so that the next and later generations to come will be able to harvest sakura shrimp. The reason why the association's revenues themselves do not decrease even if the catch is not increased (or in fact the catch may even decrease according to the amount of marine resources) is that it has successfully created added value by the sixth-industry initiatives introduced earlier. The fishery in Suruga Bay demonstrates that sustainability and development are mutually compatible.

We were really impressed by great efforts by the Yui Fisherman's Association, but we are also aware that local sustainability efforts are inevitably affected by global issues. Miyahara became more serious, saying, "Since we introduced the pooling system and started stringent resource management, fish catches have remained stable. Recently, however, the number of sakura shrimp has been declining, and that may be caused by global warming." He continued, "But the real problem would be if we just gave up because of global warming, stopped thinking and did nothing." Pondering his words, we will continue to watch and support the future efforts of the Yui Fisherman's Association, which is so committed to moving forward and not stopping.

Written by Yuka Kume, Naoko Niitsu and Junko Edahiro

*This article was funded by a research grant by the Asahi Group Foundation Ltd.