Page last updated at 09:09 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 10:09 UK

Bleak outlook for Japan's fishermen

Roland Buerk
Tokyo correspondent, BBC News, Choshi

Japanese fishermen
Fuel costs have risen in recent months

Few industries have been immune to the worldwide collapse in demand, and the fishing industry in Choshi in Japan has been no exception.

The high price of fuel drove some boats out of business.

Then with the downturn, came a decline in the exports of fish.

The fish market in the town on Japan's Pacific coast still looks bustling.

Traders gather early in the morning once the boats have brought in their catch.

Mackerel, live eels, and red fish with big glassy, mirror-like eyes lie in crates lined up on the floor.

Fuel costs

Buyers gather around, examining them for quality, and then in a silent auction move down the rows.

They throw in pieces of paper marked with the prices they are willing to pay.

TAKING THE PULSE OF THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
The BBC is Taking the Pulse of the Global Economy, looking at a range of subjects this summer
Consumer behaviour - how have lifestyles changed over the year
Food prices - which remain a concern particularly in many developing economies
Highly volatile energy prices - which have been a major issue in the past year
The plight of migrant workers - as the global recession takes hold in many economies
Housing markets - which have turned from boom to bust in many countries
Rising unemployment levels - as firms cut back because of falling orders

A year ago, the cost of fuel threatened this industry.

It got so bad that all the fishing boats stayed in port to protest.

"Last July we had a big campaign because the price of fuel was higher in the sky," said Masanobu Sakamoto of Choshi's fishermen's union.

"So one day we suspended our fishing boats and we had a demonstration in Tokyo.

"After that, the government decided to support the fishermen with some money."

Fish is a major part of the diet in Japan, and prized species can be very expensive.

One trader in Choshi was paying $120 (£73) for a single small fish. It was destined to be sold on at Tsukiji in Tokyo, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world.

In January, two sushi bar owners there paid more than a $100,000 for a 128kg bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Japan.

Low demand

But in Choshi, the fishermen say the problem now is demand has fallen.

fish market, Choshi, Japan
Choshi's fish market is not as busy as it used to be

Down on the quayside men of the Ishidamaru No 56, a large trawler, were unloading their catch.

Using huge net scoops on the end of the boat's cranes, they reached down into the hold and winched the fish up before dropping them into the back of a truck.

Unwanted jellyfish were scattered on the ground, even a hammerhead shark was hauled up on to the quay.

"Although oil prices were higher last year, because demand was high and fish prices were higher we didn't do that badly," said Morio Boshu, the first mate.

"This year, since January - although oil prices were not that high compared to last year - because of the poor catch and low overseas demand due to the high yen, the business has been bad.

"We're in the red. We're losing money."

Fewer trawlers

Exports from Choshi to the Middle East have fallen.

The fishermen say before the global downturn, a thriving market had been developing for mackerel in China, which has now dried up.

Masanobu Sakamoto of the fishermen's union has already seen boats go out of business and does not see things getting better soon.

fish processing, Japan
Japan's fish exports have fallen due to the recession

"In the last one or two months the price of fuel has increased again," he said.

"So we worry about the future, more fishermen will give up their jobs. I worry about that.

"The consumers will not pay such a high price to cover the increase of fuel cost."

And with fewer boats out fishing, there are fewer fish to buy.

Traders at Choshi can remember the market sometimes running for 24 hours in a day in better years.

Now, by 1030 in the morning, people have started to drift away.



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