“Respect the fish in the ocean”: A young fisherman protecting the Aso Sea where inherited from his grandfather (Part 2)

“Respect the fish in the ocean”: A young fisherman protecting the Aso Sea where inherited from his grandfather (Part 2)

 In Part 1, we spoke to Junya Murakami, a fisherman from Kyoto’s Aso Sea who has been involved in the stock management project of hard clam fishery in Aso Sea, Kyoto, which was selected as the champion in the U30 category of the 4th Japan Sustainable Seafood Award. Murakami talked about his motivation for launching the hard clam stock recovery project, the current stock status of the Aso Sea, how he came to work with the Fisheries Technology Department of the Kyoto Prefectural Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Technology Center (hereafter, Fisheries Technology Center), on stock management, and more.


In Part 2, we will continue to speak to him regarding various issues, including how he was able to implement stock management based on scientific evidence and what he hopes to see in the seafood industry moving forward.


Science-based stock management

――Until now, stock management has only been carried out to the extent of the ability of fisherman, and it’s not always based on scientific evidence. What are your thoughts on that?

Murakami: We were able to implement stock management based on scientific evidence because we catch hard clams. The stock management of hard clam uses something called DeLury’s method, to determine decreasing trend, the overall stock, and the appropriate catch volume based on the stock data that is measured while catching every year. The crucial point here is that there should be no migration of stock in and out of the area. For instance, fish are able to swim elsewhere or enter the area in question. However, hard clams are basically immobile. Because of the enclosed inner bay environment of this area, it was relatively easy for us to implement stock management based on scientific evidence.

Currently, stock management based on scientific evidence cannot be implemented for migrating organisms such as fish because the different prefectures are not working together. It’s necessary for various prefectures to collaborate to make this possible.


*DeLury’s method, also known as Leslie’s method, is a method for estimating stock and fishing gear efficiency using the trends of declining catch per unit of fishing effort from the catch and fishing effort data of a stock that does not migrate in and out of an area.
(Source: https://www.ism.ac.jp/editsec/toukei/pdf/47-2-277.pdf)


――This means that if prefectures and other organizations work together in the future, it’s possible that we’ll be able to manage other fishery resources based on scientific evidence, and the situation may change dramatically.

Murakami: That’s right. However, it’s not easy at all to achieve that, so I think the management of even just our own area can be regarded as a half-step in the right direction, if not the first step. That’s why we need to do everything we can.

――A self-imposed fishing ban was declared for two years, but were there any objections at the time?

Murakami: Basically, the various agreements are decided by the Staring Committee. This Staring Committee, of which I’m not a member, is a separate entity from the fisheries cooperative association. My father is a member of the Staring Committee, so I had asked him to discuss hard clams and other matters in the committee.

The period of self-imposed fishing ban that began in April 2019 was also first decided on by the Staring Committee. The ban was originally scheduled to be lifted in 2020, but the lifting of the ban was postponed because the hard clams here still didn’t grow enough. Some people wanted the ban to be lifted, but we decided to put up with it a little longer.

――Do you have any plans to work on short-neck clam or other species once the current stock management of hard clams comes to a halt?

Murakami: That’s probably not possible. The population of short-neck clams has declined throughout Japan for unknown reasons. I doubt it’s possible to implement stock management for short-neck clams unless we can first broaden the scope of the conversation by steering it beyond the fact that short-neck clams have been overcaught. It’s not possible to increase the population of onogai, either. Onogai exclusively inhabits sand and mud, and a lot of sand has been washed into the sea in recent times as a result of the many disasters.

Although I’m involved in the aquaculture of short-neck clams, it’s almost impossible for wild short-neck clam fishery.

――Where did you find the jevenile clams used for aquaculture?

Murakami: There are juvenile clams in the area. Although the number fluctuates from year to year, we’ve shipped as many as 3 million clams in our best year. This means that all our clams are farmed in Japan, and we can now do it using the juvenile clams found in our own bay. Before we set up our own business, people were trying to keep the juvenile clams in a natural environment by surrounding them with net pens. However, that proved to be a challenge, so they switched to the sale and aquaculture of juvenile clams.


The breathtakingly good quality of hard clams

――Was there any difference in the quality of the hard clams after the implementation of stock management?

Murakami: I think the quality of our hard clams has naturally improved because we ended up catching them at the best time of the year. In the past, we also used to catch them in September at the end of the spawning season, partly because they are easy to catch in the summer. As a result, some of the clams had meat with a mushy texture that was only around one-third the size of the shell. We then had a discussion with the Fisheries Technology Center regarding the need to cease such practices if we have willing to sell hard clams at a solid, stable price. Because of this, we decided to lift the fishing ban only at the most appropriate time.

――I understand that you sell most of your hard clams directly to restaurants. What have their the reactions been like?

Murakami: It has been six years since I started hard clam fishery, including the period of the fishing ban, and I didn’t really engage in direct sales in the first two years. However, there’s one restaurant to which I’ve been selling the clams directly even before the implementation of stock management. They were surprised to find that the quality of the hard clams was on a totally different level when I sold the clams to them last year.


A hard clam caught by Mr. Murakami. The largest clams can weigh close to 300g, as shown in this photo.


Fishermen rarely come into contact with middlemen, but because one of my sister’s classmate had taken over the job of a middleman, I became close to him since I go to the auctions as often as I can. Before the implementation of stock management, I was receiving complaints from him about the poor quality of the clams. He wanted us to do something about it, which led to other fishermen realizing that things were in a bad state.

This prompted us to ask the Fisheries Technology Center to inspect the hard clams during the low-quality season, which confirmed how bad things were. However, some fishermen would look at the clams of relatively higher quality in a batch of low-quality clams and assured us that everything was fine. Because of that, some people had a false sense of security. Fishermen don’t come into contact with middlemen, so they won’t know if the meat is bad.

That’s why it’s important to implement stock management and have everyone on the same page with regard to catching high-quality clams at the right time.

――With the number of fishermen on the decline, how would you like the younger generation to approach the work of a fisherman?

Murakami: Fish populations are on the decline as well, and although this might sound a little harsh, there’s nothing for fishermen to catch even if the number of fishermen grows. Still, it would be interesting if there were more fishermen of my generation. In the past, it was taken for granted that fishermen would be able to catch fish, earn a lot, and hand over the fishery to their successors. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t much fish left today…

――I see. That’s a difficult problem, indeed. Putting aside catch-related issues for the moment, do you think it will be easier to start a new movement if there were more young people?

Murakami: I think so. In the adjacent bay, there’s someone the same age as me who’s trying to become a fisherman, and there’s another person two years older than me elsewhere who’s trying to enter the industry through the “People of the Sea Development Plan.” That’s interesting to me, because if we have more young people like them, we’d be able to discuss things and get many things done. I think that will make it easier to solve problems.


**The “People of the Sea Development Plan” is a program that aims to promote the fishing industry in Kyoto Prefecture and revitalize the northern region by nurturing new individual fishermen and developing fishery management entities, improving the management skills of young fishermen, and fostering leaders who oversee the business development of fishing villages, including processing and marine operations. https://www.pref.kyoto.jp/suiji/12400027.html
 Mr. Murakami


Respect the fish in the ocean

――How would you like to see the fishing industry as a whole change?

Murakami: I hope people can give fish more respect. Of course, the job of a fisherman is to catch fish. However, that’s not all. It would be best if more fishermen would handle fish with more respect and accord them the value they deserve. Fish won’t taste good if it isn’t handled properly, as is the case now, and consumers will eventually turn away from fish.

――How would you like to see companies and others who need require large lots of fish change in the future?

Murakami: First of all, I hope they would understand what we do. It will be a good start if they understand tha, regardless of their supply chain. I would like to see that change as soon as possible.

Perhaps they think of stock management as a short-term thing. However, the stock of hard clams  won’t grow until at least five years from now, including the ones we are currently protecting. Therefore, I feel that our efforts will not reap any rewards unless people make good use of the hard clams , even if the number we can catch is small.

We can’t get our message across unless each and every person has the proper knowledge and understanding of the background of what’s going on. These clams are expensive because there aren’t enough of them. I hope people can at least appreciate the fact that hard clams are expensive today because we are looking ahead to the future.

Junya Murakami
Junya Murakami (25 years old) was born in Kyoto Prefecture. He has been fishing in the Aso Sea since his grandfather took him there at the age of 3. After graduating from junior high school, he achieved his dream of becoming a fisherman and started his own business at the age of 19. As the youngest fisherman in the Mizoshiri area, he fishes with a variety of fishing methods, including Aso Sea gill net fishing, shellfish digging, longline fishing, and pole-and-line fishing.
When he was 22 years old, he appealed to Steering Committee of Mizoshiri area of Kyoto Fisheries Cooperative regarding the need to implement stock management of hard clam and subsequently worked with the Fisheries Technology Department of the Kyoto Prefectural Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Technology Center on a stock recovery project. He also seeks to improve the quality and value addition of fish by refining the shinkei-jime (nerve tightning) technique of slaughtering fish, etc.


Original Japanese text: Nao Nagasawa