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Five years after Tsunami, Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries Cooperative Oyster farms celebrate ASC certification

April 11, 2016

Just five years after the east coast of Japan was devastated by a tsunami, the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries are stronger than ever and celebrating a major milestone.

The Shizugawa Branch of the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries Co-operative became the first farming collective in Japan to achieve ASC certification on 30 March, 2016. Following an independent assessment against the ASC Bivalve Standard by AMITA, a certification assessment body based in Japan, the co-operative earned ASC certification in recognition of their responsible environmental and social practices.

The accredited farms are situated just off the Pacific Ocean coastline in the southern half of Shizugawa Bay in Togura, Minamisanriku Town, northeast of the Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan.  Aquaculture in the area dates back to 1899 and has withstood many tsunamis over the centuries. However, most of the aquaculture facilities along this area, including those in the Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries, were destroyed by the tsunami that followed the devastating Tōhoku earthquake in March 2011.  

Toshio Sasaki Managing Director of Miyagi Fishery Cooperative said, “We are so happy about gaining this certification. We members of Shizugawa Fishery Cooperative Association lost everything in the tsunami, not only all our farming facilities but our homes as well as family and friends. Fortunately the family members and small children who survived the tsunami gave us hope to start again.”

Prior to the tsunami, smallholders ran intensive family farms on small sea surfaces with many rafts that became overcrowded and unsustainable. Starting over provided an opportunity to introduce responsible practices. To that end, the local community joined forces with World Wildlife Fund Japan (WWF) to revive the seabed using best practices; including reducing production outputs by a third each year in order establish a thriving and balanced base of aquaculture production. To better manage the farms and the updated farming methods, the farms joined together to form a co-operative, known as Miyagi Prefecture Fisheries Co-operative, Shizugawa Branch.

The co-operative participated in three-year pilot programme funded by a state government grant. At the end of the pilot, families were encouraged to manage their own farms, in accordance with the new responsible farming practices to aid the recovery of the fragile ecosystem.

“Our place of work is the sea and after the tsunami it was hard to return to sea farming again.  Not all of us came back of course. Many older members left the fishery,” said Toshio.

“Members who decided to stay had a lot of discussion about farming practices for the future. We decided to set up a sustainable farming area in order for the farming to carry on into the next generation. We reduced farming facilities to one third of that before the earthquake and the quality of the Oysters improved. It now takes one year until harvest where before it took three.”

According to Toshio, “We applied for ASC certification thanks to the great connection with WWF Japan. The ASC certification for our Oysters fulfils a long cherished wish and we are grateful to all the great people who gave us guidance to get the certificate.”

According to Haruko Horii, ‎Standards and Certification Coordinator at ASC, “This achievement is a great example of the resilience of the fisheries community in Myagi,” said Haruko. “They are succeeding by not only rebuilding their community, they are also improving it. I am very happy to finally see the first certified farm in Japan coming from this area, and I believe ASC certification will bring further benefit to the community and hope for the future.”

To see video of the newly certified oyster farm, featuring aquaculture farmer Mr Kiyohiro Goto, please click here.

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