Global Ethics Corner: Disaster, Decline, or Rebirth: A Japanese Fish Story

Apr 29, 2011

Japan's recent tsunami and nuclear disaster have devastated its fishing industry. Fish are at the heart of Japanese culture, yet worldwide stocks of wild fish are in drastic descent. Should there be a push to revive this occupation or should Japan be trying to grow new industries?

Tragedies are the core stories after the disasters in Japan. Containing nuclear destruction is the ongoing drama.

A smaller, but instructive, tale surrounds the Japanese fishing industry. Rarely is something central to a nation's psyche overthrown in a moment.

Fish and rice are at the heart of Japanese culture and fishing is mythical to this island nation. The International Herald Tribune notes that Japanese "eat more fish per capita than people in any other developed country..." "The importance of fishing...in Japanese culture belies the fishing industries status in the economy."

Fishing is a declining occupation. Worldwide stocks of wild fish are in drastic descent, and species are increasingly fished to the brink of extinction. Consequent competition on the high seas is ever more intense.

Globally, industries rise and fall, carrying peoples' livelihoods and entire communities with them. In America the demise of steel, sugar cane, and small farming devastated regions. The misery of decline, fall, and renewal takes generations, and success is far from certain.

For much of the Japanese fishing industry, the twin disasters wiped the slate clean. But, what's next?

The push of old, core values is strong. Some know nothing but challenging the oceans for food, while for others, the fishing industry sustains national symbols, and requires renewed investment.

The pull of new visions is also powerful. Decline was overthrown by disaster offering a chance to rapidly reinvent a region, to grow new industries.

What would you do, rebuild the strengths of the past or focus on rebirth? Resources may not allow both.

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Stuart Biggs, Kanoko Matusuyama, Frederik Balfour, "For Already Waning Japanese Fishing Industry, A Possible Knockout Blow," The International Herald Tribune, April 26, 2011, p. 20.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Matthias Lambrecht
Takeshi Igarashi
Annonymous
Joran Pecher
Gilson Higashi

Danielle Hams
Walt Hubis
Marius Watz
Devon Adams
Matthew M. Bradley/ U.S. Navy

Mike Bostock
Matthias Lambrecht
Matthias Lambrecht

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