During the March 11 earthquake and tsunami back in 2011, Miyagi Prefecture in the Tohoku region was affected especially badly due to it being closest to the epicentre. Prior to this disaster, the 142 fishing ports along Miyagi Prefecture’s coastline were renowned as one of the best fishing grounds in the world and the annual output volume was always said to be within the top 5 within the country.
Since then, the Miyagi Prefectural Government has undertaken various steps to help the fishing industry get back on its feet. Among these steps are things like removing the debris at the ports and sea, repairing or reconstructing damaged facilities at the ports, creating a database for local fishermen and seafood products processing companies to share information, launching extensive promotional campaigns for their local seafood as well as introducing laws and regulations to ensure a consistent supply of seafood grown and caught from the sea. Based on the 2014 results released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, it does look like Miyagi is on its way to recovery as its annual output of seafood was only behind Hokkaido, Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Ehime.
However, the fishing industry was already facing a labour crunch prior to the natural disaster in 2011 because of the tough work involved and lack of young successors to take over the businesses. Coupled with the impact of the disaster, there were many fishermen who had to leave the industry against their will due to their personal circumstances. In a bid to turn the tide around, attract more young people to join the industry and ensure the profitability of the fishermen’s businesses, a group of fishermen decided to take up the challenge and revamp the fishing industry on their own.
On 27 August 2014, a group of young fishermen and owners of seafood processing businesses came together to form Fisherman Japan and held their establishment ceremony in Tokyo. The representative from the group, Akama Shunsuke, who is a sargassum fisherman, revealed that he had met his partners through various avenues such as the Higashi no Shoku no Kai which aims to revive the food industry in Eastern Japan after the March 11 disaster. Up to the point when they got together to form the group, each fisherman was considered to be the ruler of his own kingdom and there was little interaction even among those who operated from the same fishing port, not to mention meeting those who are from the same prefecture but different cities. After the disaster, it became clear that if the fishermen could come together to offer one another support and assistance, it would help the whole fishing industry recover faster from the damages suffered.
Fisherman Japan is comprised of 11 young men who are involved in the fishing industry through various ways. Among them, 8 of them are fishermen specialising in the cultivation or harvesting of sargassum, seaweed, silver salmon, scallops, sea squirts, oysters and laver while three others are fish dealers. Rounding up the team are two managers who are the only female members. The profiles of the team members are provided on the group’s official website.
Fisherman Japan has set its sights high and beyond as seen from its philosophy and vision spelled out on its website where they are aiming for 3Ks to be the core elements of the future fishing industry in the Sanriku region i.e. kakkoii (カッコイイ) – cool, kasegeru (稼げる) – profitable and kakushinteki (革新的) – innovative. By achieving this, the group hopes to increase the number of new fishermen in the region to 1,000 in 10 years’ time by 2024.
The group currently lists four main projects on its website which they are working on so as to achieve their goals. For example, the Triton Project is an initiative whereby the group conducts events and experience camps and sets up Triton Bases nationwide that are targeted at people who want to experience and learn more about how it’s like to work in the industry. For those who don’t actually live in the Tohoku region, the group sources for temporary housing near the bases so that the participants can live there during the peak periods while helping or working for the local fishermen.
The Wazake project focuses on promoting Japanese salmon domestically and overseas especially during the prime season of April to July. Fisherman BBQ is a series of monthly BBQ events open to the public at Rock Hills Garden in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. For a price of just 7,000 yen (6,000 if you buy your tickets in advance), you can enjoy the best seafood from Fisherman Japan members which are prepared fresh on the spot and interact with them. Note that there will only be 60 tickets on sale each month so it’s recommended that you sign up for their updates through their website. Last but not least, Fisherman Job helps people to find vacancies in the industry which they can apply for.
Besides these initiatives, the group also works with external partners so as to boost the reach of their products such as their collaboration with ABC Cooking Studio to offer cooking classes showcasing the charm of food products from the Tohoku region. They have a morning market in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, every month so as to communicate with the consumers directly. IT, which used to be a pain point for people in the fishing industry, is being tapped on actively now so as to boost the links between the fishermen and the restaurants and supermarkets.
One of the most interesting things that I find about Fisherman Japan is that they have their own fan club which is named CLUB MERMAN. Apparently, the word MERMAN is a hybrid between mermaid and fisherman so the fan club members are considered to be half-fishermen supporting the group’s activities. There are two membership types which are Little Merman and Big Merman. As the name suggests, Little Merman requires a smaller membership fee of 1,980 yen per year which allows you to receive the group’s newsletter, invitations to fan club members-only events and a small sample of the fresh seafood caught or bred by the group’s fishermen. On the other hand, the Big Merman scheme gives you more perks at a higher price but you can choose three different payment schemes depending on your preferences. For those just wanting to give this a try, they can sign up for the trial set at 5,000 yen. If people want to choose shorter-term contracts, they can do a quarterly renewal at 5,000 yen. Of course, for those who pay the annual fee of 18,000, they get a 10% off the membership fee than the quarterly contracts.
Besides the benefits already extended to Little Merman members, those who are under the Big Merman scheme get an original pin badge and a box of fresh seafood sent to their homes every three months which consists of wakame seaweed, sargassum, laver, sea squirts, oysters, hotate and silver salmon. Sounds like a pretty good deal to get fresh seafood periodically but unfortunately for people like me who don’t stay in Japan, we can’t sign up for the membership since they don’t do deliveries to overseas addresses.
In a bid to raise funds for the training and development of new fishermen, the group released their first calendar this year which is available for sale on Yahoo Shopping. For a price of 1,580 yen, you get to see nicely-styled shots of the Fisherman Japan members showcasing their “ikemen” power and projecting a cool image of the work they do. If you are interested in this calendar, do check out the website for more details.
How about supporting these aspiring young fishermen in their dream to rejuvenate the fishing industry? Take a look at their sleek promotion video here and change your perception of this age-old profession!