Survival at the margins: precarious livelihoods in rural Japanese fishing communities
(German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ), Tokyo)
Paper short abstract:
This contribution explores the question of how livelihoods of small family businesses in Japanese coastal fisheries are challenged - and defended - in the context of dwindling resource stocks, new global commodity chains in seafood produce and the intensified territorialisation of maritime space.
Paper long abstract:
Based on 2010 fieldwork in coastal fishing communities on Kyūshū, which are revisited seven years later, this contribution explores the question of how livelihoods of small family businesses in rural fisheries are challenged - and defended - in the context of dwindling resource stocks, new global commodity chains in fishery produce and the intensified territorialisation of maritime space. Not different from many farming communities in Japan, most fishing communities face problems of de-population, a general marginalization of rural areas and the demise of its main source of income. With plummeting total numbers and more than 50% of employees in Japanese fisheries above the age of 60, largely family-operated fishing enterprises are facing a severe lack of successors. This lack is especially problematic as it makes investments in fishing tools, nets, motors and boats very difficult and leaves little room for plans for the future. Shrinking maritime resources, the rising cost of fuel and stagnating fish prices contribute to the declining profitability of this economic sector, which used to offer vast earning opportunities to young Japanese men a few decades before. Structural transformations on world and national markets are increasingly challenging their livelihoods and changing the power structures of the seafood business in Japan: the emergence of giant global players in buyer-driven global commodity chains of fishery produce, the proliferation of Japanese supermarket chains, and shifting consumer preferences towards processed seafood products, take-out and eating out. At this intersection of social, economic and spatial precarity, fishers as well as policy makers develop different coping and survival strategies such as the establishment of alternative marketing channels, the creation of new value-added products and higher standards of quality and traceability, the invention and marketing of local traditions, political activism, a diversification of income or even a resort to illegal activities. Revisiting interview partners after seven years, this paper seeks to shed light on various livelihood strategies of actors in Japanese coastal fisheries and the degree of their viability.
Socioeconomic change in non-metropolitan Japan