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Dialogue #37 Aiming to Maintain the Fishery 

Kinan Art Week Dialogue #37

Guests 

Director and Fleet Captain, Tosa Maru Co.,Ltd. 
Mr. Takamasa Tanooka 
Based in the Egawa area of Tanabe, he is the fleet leader of a fleet of six boats. He specialises in purse seine fishing, using underwater lights to attract fish and then surrounding them with nets, landing mainly horse mackerel, mackerel and sardines. He has a strong determination to catch every fish he finds. The fishery is suffering from a shortage of workers and a decline in catches, and he is working hard to ensure that the fishery is preserved for the future.
Tosamaru Co.,Ltd.

Director, Tanabe Sales Office, Planning Department, Tanabe City Hall
Mr. Masahito Kumano 
He is the head of the Tanabe Sales Office, which was created in April 2014 within Tanabe City Hall. With a focus on local development, the office aims to solve local problems and revitalise the region. The office also provides support to immigrants and settlers from outside the region, fostering “players for the future of Tanabe”, including those from the local area. Its main projects include the “Tanabe Mirai Souzou Juku” (currently in its 6th term as of November 2021) and the “Tanabe City Community Development Cooperation Team” (Facebook). Tanabe Sales Office

Interviewer

Yuto Yabumoto
Kinan Art Week Executive Committee Chair

<Editing>

Kinan Editor by TETAU
https://good.tetau.jp/

Aiming to Maintain the Fishery 

Table of Contents

1. The origins of the Tosa Maru and the current state of the fishery
2. The Tosa Maru ‘purse seine’ fishery
3.  What is the value of being a fisherman?
4. Fish as ‘art’.
5. Thinking about the future of Egawa

1. The origins of the Tosa Maru and the current state of the fishery

Tosa Maru Co.,Ltd. (photo by Secretariat)

Yabumoto:
Today we would like to talk about the current state of the fishing industry, the value of fishermen, or “what is needed to keep the fishery alive?” 

First of all, we would like to ask you, Mr. Tanooka. When did you first become a fisherman?

Mr. Tanooka:
It was about 25 years ago. I was born and raised in the Egawa area of Tanabe City, and after graduating from high school I worked in sales in Osaka for about three or four years. when I was 23 or 24 I came back to my hometown and became a fisherman, and now I am the fleet leader of Tosa Maru Co.,Ltd.

Yabumoto:
How many generations has the Tosa Maru been in existence?

Mr. Tanooka:
I don’t know the details, but I think Tosa Maru was established in my grandfather’s generation. At first, my grandfather was a single mackerel fisherman and my father used to fish with him on his boat. Later, when my father became captain, he started “purse seine fishing*” and I took over the fishing method.
We mainly catch three kinds of fish: horse mackerel, mackerel and sardines. However, due to the recent Kuroshio Meandering Current*, the catch of sardines during the summer months has decreased, so we are now mainly fishing for mackerel.

*Reference: Purse seine fishing, landing operations (Tosa Maru Co., Ltd.) 

*Reference Ocean Health Checklist: Multi-month to Decadal Scale Variations of the Kuroshio Current (Currents) (1 March 2021, Japan Meteorological Agency) 

Yabumoto:
I once heard that the catch*1 of horse mackerel and mackerel  was low. I think the current situation in the fishing industry is very difficult, because if the catch is low, sales will fall, and there is also the issue of a shortage of workers.

*1 The amount of fish caught, or the value of the catch.

What is the catch (Kotobank)?

Also, Mr. Kumano is the head of the Tanabe Sales Office, which I understand is a department that implements a variety of initiatives aimed at regional development and solving local issues. Mr.Kumano, what do you think about the current situation of the fishing industry?

Mr Kumano:
I agree with Mr Yabumoto. Of course, the shortage of fishermen is a cause for concern, but so is the instability of the catch and the value of the catch. Recently, because of the Corona pandemic , the amount of fish we distribute to restaurants has been decreasing, and as a result the catch has been falling. This is partly unavoidable because of the current situation, but I sometimes wonder why fish prices haven’t gone up.

Yabumoto:
It’s just my opinion, but I think it’s because we’re producing too much fish through aquaculture, both at home and abroad. Normally, we need to maintain a balance between production and decomposition, that is, between production and consumption. However, we have been producing so much that the balance may be breaking down. I think this is particularly true of the manufacturing industry, but I suspect that the fishing industry is in a similar situation.

2. The Tosa Maru ‘purse seine’ fishery

Tosa Maru fishing boat (photo by the secretariat)

Yabumoto:
Tosa Maru is a “purse seiner”, what exactly is this fishing method?

Mr. Tanooka:
Basically, we set sail in the evening and fish during the night and early morning. First of all, we use underwater lights to collect the fish. After that, when the fish are gathered, we drop the nets to surround them, pull out the fish we have caught and load them onto our carriers to take them to the fishing port.

At the moment we have a fleet of six boats that fish 90 to 100 days a year. The fleet consists of three boats that use underwater lights to guide the fish, one net boat and two transport boats that carry the fish we catch.

Tosa Maru’s purse seine fishing (photo by the Secretariat)
Source: Landing operations (Tosa Maru Co., Ltd.) 

Yabumoto:
Where are the fishing grounds? Do you sail to distant waters?

Mr. Tanooka:
No, it’s more of a suburb. We fish somewhere between the Kii Peninsula and Tokushima Prefecture. It takes about one or two hours to get there, depending on the size and speed of the boat.

Yabumoto:
The purse seine fishery is quite hard work and requires a lot of manpower, how many crew do you have on board?

Mr. Tanooka:
At the moment we have about 20 seafarers. The majority  of fishermen in our fleet are in their 40s. We  don’t have any fishermen in their twenties among our crew, because we don’t recruit very often at the moment.

Yabumoto:
I feel that fishing is a world of oral tradition and there is very little in the way of manuals. There are a lot of young people in Mr Tanooka’s fleet, and in that sense I think it is very difficult to pass on the skills to younger fishermen.

Mr. Tanooka:
Basically, we fish based on empirical data, so, indeed, there may be few manual aspects. However, they are currently developing a system that uses AI. I don’t know the details, but I think it’s a system where, for example, if you input data about the fish and catches at each fishing ground, the AI will guess the fishing ground conditions, like “if you go offshore today, you will catch fish”. I’d be very grateful for this system, because it would reduce the number of times I’ve gone out fishing and come back empty-handed. It may still be in the experimental stage, but I’d love to see it implemented.

3.  What is the value of being a fisherman?

Yabumoto:
It’s a bit of a philosophical question, but what is the value of being a fisherman? I feel that the answer is hidden in the work of fishermen. What do you think about when you are fishing?

Mr. Tanooka:
I’m working with the mindset that “if I’m going out to sea, I definitely want to catch fish.” 

Mr Kumano:
It’s kind of like going to battle

Yabumoto:
I think these are the very words that express the seriousness of Mr. Tanooka’s feelings.

In fact, my aim is to sell sea bream for 10,000 yen a kilogram, instead of 1,500 yen a kilogram. I believe that by finding the value of fish, the value of the fishermen will increase, which in turn will help to maintain the fishery. I feel like this is the only solution to maintaining the fishery and solving its problems. In this sense, I think we should also focus on the attractiveness of the fishermen themselves, such as “what only this fisherman can do”.

Mr. Tanooka:
For example, if a fisherman catches a bonito and it tastes good, the fisherman’s value increases as well as the value of the fish.

Mr Kumano:
When it comes to fish and fishermen, branded fish is a good example. As I recall, Tosa Maru has a brand of fish called “Ki-saba (Ki-mackerel)”.

Source: What is Kisaba? (Tosamaru Co., Ltd.) 

Yabumoto:
What does a branded fish look like?

Mr. Tanooka:
The fishermen brand their catch and sell it as a luxury fish. “Seki-Aji (Seki-Horse mackerel)” and “Seki-Saba (Seki-Mackerel)” in Oita Prefecture are the most famous ones*. Many fishermen have raised their profile through branded fish, but others have given up on branding because the price of their fish has not risen as much as they had hoped.

*Reference: Seki-Aji and Seki-Saba (Oita City website) 

Yabumoto:
What do fishermen value and brand about their fish?

Mr. Tanooka:
The first important thing is the freshness and taste of the fish. Some people are studying the trends of the time and other brands of fish. They also focus on the fishermen themselves, introducing their “approach to fishing” and pushing it as one brand together with the fish.

Yabumoto:
Indeed, it would be very difficult to market a branded fish without communicating more than just the freshness and taste of the fish. In this sense, the “story” of the fishermen may be adding value and raising the value of the fish.

4. Fish as ‘art’.

Yabumoto:
The Kinan Art Week will feature the work of Afu (Afzal Shaafiu Hasan), a contemporary artist from the Maldives. His work, A Maldivian Tale, is based on the fishing industry in the Maldives. Through this work, we hope to find a story that connects with the Tanabe fishery.

It’s just my opinion, but I think that by thinking of fish as art, we can increase the value of fish. I think there’s a big difference between thinking of fish as something you’ve fished for and thinking of it as something that has added value as art.

Also, I mentioned earlier that I would like to aim to sell fish for 10,000 yen per kg, but I am thinking more about how to make it 100,000 yen or 1,000,000 yen per kg. .

Source: Afu (Afzal Shahu Hasan) (KINAN ART WEEK) 
A Maldivian Tale, 2012. Source: Afu (Afzal Shahu Hasan) (KINAN ART WEEK) 

Mr. Tanooka:
It’s amazing. I’ve never thought of fish as art at all (laughs). I think  your idea is very interesting.

Mr Kumano:
I think it’s an idea that goes beyond the preconceived notion of fish as food. It’s certainly interesting to think of fish not as food, but as art or a symbol of “new value”.

Yabumoto:
I think that humans use the means of fishing to interact with fish in some way. I am interested in exploring this kind of relationship between fishermen and fish, but in order to pursue this relationship, I also think it is important to find the value of fishermen and fish.

At the beginning of our conversation, I asked if the reason the price of fish is not rising was due to overproduction.  Not only in the fishing industry, but also in many other industries, the business model of “mass production” has been adopted for a long time, but I think we need to rethink this approach.

By finding value in methods other than mass production, we may be able to turn our attention to the “valuable things” and “hidden masterpieces” that are lying dormant in the limelight. In this sense, I would like to discover and export the “valuable products” that are lying dormant in the Kinan region, and gradually disseminate them over a period of about 10 years, through fieldwork and other means.

Mr Kumano:
In Japan, there are still many parts of the world that are mass produced. Maybe we need to have a process of stopping and reviewing the value of things. I think we should tell people that it is important to put things into practice, even if they are not efficient.

Yabumoto:
From a marketing point of view, there is also the possibility that “eating fish makes you richer”. The value may lie in people asking “What kind of benefits does eating fish have?” 

Mr. Tanooka:.

After all, we feel happy when we eat good fish. Not only do we feel the pleasure of eating something from the sea, but we also get to feel emotions such as “the processed meat is delicious” or “mackerel in autumn is delicious”.

Mr Kumano:
I see. Perhaps eating fish in season is also linked to people’s happiness and spiritual well-being.

5. Thinking about the future of Egawa

Yabumoto:
What do you want the Egawa region to look like in the future?

Mr. Tanooka:
I would like to see the fleet that unites the fishermen remain in the local area. Of course we have to maintain what we have, but I think it would be good for the development of the fishing industry if a new fleet is created.

Mr Kumano:
The best thing would be to build a fleet of fishermen out of nothing, but that seems difficult. I think it would be more realistic to bring in fishermen from other parts of the world, or fishermen who have other jobs.

Yabumoto:
I think that the only way to maintain the fishery is to review the whole fishery and export the value of the fishermen and the fish. The problem is that it takes a long time.

By the way, there are many fishing ports around Tanabe Bay, such as Egawa Fishing Port*, but what were  their roles in the past? Basically, the harbours functioned as a dock and a landing place, and I think this system was and still is the same.

*Reference: Around Egawa Fishing Port, Tanabe City (Tsuritaro) 

Mr Kumano:
There is a port called Mori in Tanabe Bay, which was used as a repatriation port* at the end of the Pacific War. There used to be a cruising boat from Mori Port and Ebisu Fishing Port* to the pier in Shirahama, which many people used to commute to work or school, and bicycles were carried on the boat.

*Reference: Chikayoshi Atsuta, “Kumano Kodo Michikusa Ki: 49th Tanabe Bay (Tanabe City), which made a milestone of the times” (May 1, 2018, FB News Monthly) 

*Reference: Around Ebisu Fishing Port, Tanabe City (Tsuritaro) 

Tanabe Bay, around Mori Port. Source: Mori  Port (Wakayama Prefecture Website) 
Shirahama Pier. Source: Pier map 

Yabumoto:
I see. What about the function as a landing place? For example, did ships coming from elsewhere ever dock at the port of Egawa?

Mr. Tanooka:
I think they used to come here a lot when they were landing fish. However, as the number of fishermen fishing in convoys has decreased, there are fewer boats in the harbour now.

Yabumoto:
I think that the fishery industry is facing a shortage of workers. I once had a conversation with a farmer who told me that the government is actively supporting the agricultural sector with a variety of measures to promote it. If the fishing industry could receive the same kind of generous support as the farming industry, it might be possible to solve some of the current problems.

However, I think that this current situation in the fishing industry is, on the contrary, an opportunity. For example, among developing Asian countries,  it is difficult for contemporary art to receive support from the state.  Instead, they use the medium of art to export their locally-focused work and their ideas to the whole world. Some of their works cost more than 10 million yen, and I feel that fishing can also be exported in the same way as art. 

In this context, we have set up a 10-year plan to steadily review what is valuable in our region. We don’t need to force ourselves to change what we have, it is important to export to the world as it is. In order to achieve our goals, though, we first need to see and learn about the fishing industry (laughs).

Mr. Tanooka:
We’d love to go fishing with you! (Laughter)

Yabumoto:
Thank you! I’ll study it! I learned a lot today. Thank you very much.

Mr. Tanooka:
Thank you very much.

Mr Kumano:
Thank you very much.