RGU researcher highlights Fukushima disaster impact on Japanese fisheries

A Robert Gordon University (RGU) researcher has highlighted the ways in which Japanese fishing communities are still being affected after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Dr Leslie MabonSociology lecturer Dr Leslie Mabon from RGU’s School of Applied Social Studies has published one of the first English-language peer-reviewed studies which considers the views of Japanese fishermen about the impact the nuclear fall-out has had on their livelihoods.

The paper, which was published by Coastal Management this month, looks at the governance of risk in fisheries in Japan after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

His research, which was supported by a Japan Foundation Fellowship, was conducted in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, during the summers of 2014 and 2015 which involved interviews, data analysis and observational records.

Dr Mabon said: “The nuclear accident has had profound effects on Fukushima fisheries which are still being felt. Full-scale commercial coastal fisheries have been stopped and efforts to understand the effects of marine radioactive contamination on produce from the sea continue.

“Before the disaster the annual fisheries catch to Iwaki City was worth around £8million each year so it has had a very significant impact on the area.

“Small-scale trial fisheries have now re-commenced with a view to gradually re-starting Fukushima fisheries over time. More than 30,000 fish samples have been taken by Japanese researchers since the disaster to keep track on the impact radiation has had on fishing stocks.”

Working with researchers from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, especially Professor Midori Kawabe from the Department of Marine Policy and Culture, Dr Mabon’s research paid particular attention to lessons that may be learned for managing uncertainties and risks in coastal management.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with people in the community, discussion groups and field observations from Iwaki and Fukushima Prefecture which were facilitated by colleagues in Japan, Dr Mabon covered three factors in his study:

  • The role of trusted local-level points of contact
  • The value of transparent monitoring that acknowledges remaining limitations and uncertainties
  • The importance of taking seriously the cultural dimensions of rapid and potentially irreversible environmental change.

Dr Mabon said: “The findings of my research reiterate the importance of trusted local contacts in relaying information about risk and uncertainty.

“I also found out a lot about the importance of taking seriously the socio-cultural effects of major disasters, as these tend to get overlooked behind the economic and political effects.

“The research would not have been possible without support from the team at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology who have built strong links with the affected communities.

“Fukushima Prefecture’s Fisheries Section and the local fisheries cooperatives also helped to arrange and support the fieldwork which helped to enhance the research and meant we had direct contact with the affected communities.”

Dr Mabon was inspired to conduct his research in Japan as his work focuses on environmental change and he also grew up in the fishing community of Avoch on the Black Isle.

He said: “Having been raised in a fishing village I'm well aware of how much fishing matters to a community, not only economically but also socially and culturally, so it was very sobering to see how the nuclear accident had affected the livelihoods of people on the Fukushima coast.

“There is still a lot of damage and reconstruction from the tsunami, so being able to get a sense of the scale of the devastation was quite something.

“At the same time, it was extremely encouraging to see how seriously the Iwaki fishing community is taking monitoring and screening of fisheries produce.

“There is understandably a lot of concern about radiation both locally and nationally in Japan, so rather than saying everything's safe the local fishing cooperatives and local government researchers seem to be trying to be open and honest about what they know and what they still don't know, and build up consumer confidence again incrementally.”

Dr Mabon also hopes that wider lessons about risk, pollution and environmental change can be taken from his research.

He said: “Although a nuclear accident is clearly an extreme event, major pollution events or large-scale environmental changes could have effects on marine environments in many parts of the world. So understanding now how coastal communities are affected and how to govern risks and uncertainties may help us to be better prepared for the future.”

Dr Mabon has also blogged about the paper: 'Fisheries in Fukushima post-disaster' on 21 October 2015

Release by
Ross AndersonCommunications Officer | Health and Sport