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The Political Ecology of Japanese Coastal Fisheries Reform
German Institute of Japanese Studies, Japan
For the first time in 70 years, the bill to reform the Japanese Fishery Law was passed in late December 2018. Besides more stringent regulations and the introduction of fishing quotas for more species, the reform aims to attract more private capital investments especially into aquaculture by opening fisheries to non-local, non-cooperative actors. Targeting economic growth while at the same time professing a dedication to more sustainable resource management, the reform resonates with “blue economy” or “blue growth” programs dominating international ocean strategies in recent years. Based on qualitative field research in peripheral fishing villages in Southwestern Japan as well as on the analysis of documents on the fishery reform, this presentation discusses the political ecology of the ongoing fishery reform and the looming dispossession of small-scale fishers in the enclosure of one of the last vestiges of natural resource commons in the world.
In a form of “sea tenure”, local fishery cooperatives co-manage fishing rights in Japanese coastal fisheries, but structural transformations have in recent years been challenging small cooperatives and fishing communities. Demographic change, diminished profitability, and ecological and resource crisis as well as structural shifts in the processing, retailing, and marketing of seafood have led to a sharp decline in the number of fishers. Reform, thus, is undisputedly necessary, but the emphasis on private capital and top-down regulation, though supported by domestic political circles and NPOs as well as through international agenda setting campaigns, remains highly disputed among fishery cooperatives, academics, and environmentalists. How will the renegotiation of concepts such as common resources, access rights, food security, and sustainability impact small-scale fishers in the face of ecological and demographic crisis?