A tale of resilience and renewal: Oyster farming in the Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
Oysters have been farmed in Shizugawa Bay for over a century. Characterised by rocky, steep coastline, the area is renowned for its marine life. But in 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami had devastating impacts on the region.
It swept away homes and livelihoods, causing at least 15,897 casualties and leaving around 2,500 people missing. Most of the aquaculture facilities were destroyed, driving many longstanding farmers to permanently leave. It threatened the very spirit of oyster farming in Shizugawa Bay.
Despite the precarious position they were in, the remaining farmers from the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries dared to envision a future beyond the destruction. They saw an opportunity to not just rebuild, but to reimagine their practices for generations to come.
Guided by WWF Japan and a government grant, these resilient farmers embarked on a transformative three year pilot programme to promote more environmentally sustainable and responsible practices.
An opportunity to enhance productivity
One change was scaling down the amount of farming rafts, from over 1,000 pre-tsunami when productivity and growth rates were often poor, to 300, overseen by 32 farmers. This shift sparked a surge in productivity, allowed oyster workers to maintain their income whilst freeing up invaluable time and lowered the risks associated with potential future natural disasters.
After completing the pilot programme, the cooperative wanted to showcase their commitment to responsible and future-focused practices. With help from WWF Japan, they applied for ASC certification and just five years after the tsunami, they proudly became the first ASC certified farm in Japan.
Boosted sales through new retailers
This accolade wasn’t just a badge of honour; it opened doors to a world of opportunities. Media, retailers, and processors all wanted to be part of the story. The ASC label allows farmers to sell their oysters under the Togura brand name to major retailers like AEON and Ito-Yokado, as well as Coop and Daichi-wo-Mamoru-kai, Japan’s largest organic distributor.
Thanks to the credibility from being ASC certified, sales revenue of Togura oysters soared. Income increased by 150% compared to pre-tsunami levels; a true testament to the farmers’ unwavering spirit and commitment to improvement despite such a challenging situation.
Inspiring and attracting the next generation
Beyond economic gains, the ripple effects of their achievement were profound. Their success inspired a new generation, breathing life into an ageing workforce. Younger farmers became eager to join the cooperative and ensure that the legacy of oyster farming endures.
Committed to maintaining the environment
For Fujio Abe, a longstanding member of the Shizugawa Branch of Miyagi Fishery Cooperative, achieving ASC certification wasn’t just about numbers; it was about a fundamental shift towards responsible aquaculture.
“In the wake of the earthquake, we aimed to break away from overcrowding and shift to aquaculture that does not impose a burden on nature. Applying for ASC certification enabled us to see if this effort worked,” he said.
“I think the biggest change we experienced is that the transformation to responsible aquaculture and attaining ASC certification has increased income by improving quality, reduced working hours and helped to attract new farmers into the profession.”
This story isn’t just about oysters; it’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of sustainable practices. In the wake of destruction, they sowed seeds of change, cultivating a future where tradition meets innovation, where pride meets progress, and where the sea whispers tales of triumph against all odds.
Emerging from a natural disaster, oyster farming in Shizugawa has blossomed into a beacon of hope and progression.