Noto Peninsula Earthquake – 3 Months Later / No Reconstruction in Sight For Quake-Hit Ports in Japan; Fishermen Contemplate Whether to Stay in Greying Industry

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fisherman Ryuta Okizaki stands at a damaged port in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture.

How can Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto region find a foothold for reconstruction following the Noto Peninsula Earthquake? This is the second installment of a series that examines some of the problems the area is facing.


Fishing boats are stranded by too-shallow waters at Wajima Port in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, where the seabed rose by about two meters due to the powerful Noto Peninsula Earthquake.

The elevation of the seawalls has also made it impossible for ships to come alongside. A temporary pier is being built little by little, but excavation of the seabed and the removal of about 200 damaged boats remains undone.

“I want to keep fishing in Wajima, where I was born and raised, no matter how long it takes. I’ll do everything I can and wait for that time to come,” said Ryuta Okizaki, 41. He renewed his resolve after he visited the port on March 27 for the first time in about a month and checked the damage to a fishing boat he inherited from his father.

After graduating from high school, Okizaki followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and made a living from gill-net fishing and longline fishing. He, his wife, their four children and their house in Wajima all survived the Jan. 1 earthquake, but his boat was damaged by tsunami.

Repair materials and ship carpenters are both in short supply, so Okizaki cannot get his ship repaired anytime soon. Above all, it is impossible to go fishing from the damaged port.

Having lost his way to make a living, Okizaki began working at a construction company run by a friend to support his family. He has been doing part-time jobs such as repairing roads and removing debris for 2½ months. Now, he is concerned how long this situation will continue.

Damage has been confirmed at 60 out of 69 fishing ports in Ishikawa Prefecture. According to the latest updates released by the Fisheries Agency on March 21, there were 20 unusable ports where it was impossible to land catches, and 28 partially usable ports where catches could be landed but not at full capacity.

Although 21 fishing ports were available, most of those in Wajima and Suzu on the peninsula were considered unusable.

The Ishikawa prefectural government estimates the earthquake damage to the fisheries industry in the prefecture at ¥100 billion. Catches at three ports in Wajima and Suzu usually account for around one-fourth of the total catch volume at 10 major ports in the prefecture.

The value of catches at Wajima Port stood at about ¥2.5 billion in fiscal 2022, more than any other port in the prefecture.

The prefectural government views the Okunoto region as an important fishing ground. “The reconstruction of the Noto region is not possible without the reconstruction of the fishing industry,” Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase said.

A major obstacle is the advanced age of fishermen. According to statistics compiled by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry in 2018, there were 2,409 fishery workers in the prefecture, down 40% over the past decade.

In Wajima and Suzu alone, the number declined by slightly more than 40% to 777 over the same period. Fishery workers aged 65 and older account for about 31% of all those in Wajima and about 65% in Suzu. The greying of fishery workers is believed to be further progressing.

“None of the fishermen I know are giving up fishing. But I don’t know what will happen if reconstruction takes a long time,” said a senior official of a local fishermen’s association.

A fisherman in his 20s in Wajima got an offer to join a civil engineering company. “I’m torn over whether I should give up fishing,” he said.

Restoration work has begun at only a few ports. “Even if it’s impossible to restore small fishing ports, we can consolidate them in other reconstructed ports, including large hubs,” an official at the Ishikawa Prefecture of Fisheries Co-operative Associations said.

Local governments and fisheries associations set up a consultative panel on March 25 and have started discussions on how to rebuild the local fisheries industry. They are aiming to release a reconstruction policy by the end of fiscal 2024, a year from now.

Tatsuto Aoki, associate professor of regional disaster prevention at Kanazawa University and who has studied fishing ports affected by the earthquake, said: “By when should these ports be restored? Without the prospect for their restoration, fishermen can’t decide whether to continue fishing. It’s important for the national government to provide a reconstruction plan and other information to help them anticipate the future.”