Japanese Fisheries and Equipoise

Today’s discussion felt slightly less theoretical and more immediately applicable to our research on Japanese fisheries. Professors Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers generously offered their knowledge, time, and expertise on Maine fisheries, while also sharing their impressions and experiences surrounding the perception of fisheries—and science in general—while on sabbatical in Japan. As Olaf noted at one point in the conversation, in Japan, there is a more of a sense that people trust and revere science compared to the US. In contrast to fisherman in Maine who are often averse to collaboration with scientists, Amy and Olaf speculated that attitudes of fishermen in Japan might feel more open to science. They posed the questions, “How do fishermen in Japan interact with scientists? And what are the implications of this for locations ranging from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo to small street corner sushi stalls in the Tokyo metropolitan area?” Given that I have interacted with Amy and Olaf in primarily scientific contexts (lectures, labwork, etc.), it was fascinating to hear them consider the anthropological impacts on fisheries. Expanding on our readings, they suggested that the scientific models to optimize fishery function have been around for over twenty years; however, the difficulty is in convincing people to actively implement them. As our research employs an anthropological and often interview-based approach, it will be useful to keep this contradiction in mind. To Professor Klingle from Monday’s discussion, “To be a scholar and an intellectual is to be cruel in some sense.” As we speak with those involved with Japanese fisheries, it will be tempting to critique some approaches and flaws that are apparent to us from our readings and discussions. However, we as students must employ equipoise in order to kindly empathize with where our interviewees are coming from while also continuing to critically question.

The Fisheries

Day 2 of prep was filled with things I never considered before. Fisheries. I have always been afraid of the unknown ocean content and depth. Furthermore, not having full control (relative to on land) drives me  away from wanting to be submerged in the pressurized water.

I began thinking that the fisheries trends would be simple patterns of fish populations’ decrease over the recent era, reflecting the increasingly productive and efficient technologies. Then, hopefully, some sort of governmental regulation or economic incentives could be enforced to regulate the amount of fish caught. By then, I expected the fisheries to return to normal after some time. Surprisingly, and scarily, there is an additional dip in the population, after things start to look optimistic. Although not a science person, I really appreciated Professor Johnson’s explanation of the population over time graph (with exponential growth, carrying capacity, and population equations). I think it provides a useful (and different) framework to track and explain predictions and trends in our current world.

One thing that triggered me to continue asking questions was Selinger-sensei’s initial question: what “area of study”/POV does the author write from? I, very “naturally,” assumed that because the article was one of fisheries and ecology/technology, that the author had a particular interest in more STEM fields. Not true, especially reflected in another piece talking about the anthropological reactions to Fukushima radiation consequences and stigma. As I meet more experts, I want to be able to ask and to understand where each person is coming from and why they choose this approach. I think that while reflecting on the fisheries, we inherently reveal more about our individual thinking (and, of course, bias) than the actual unpredictability of the massive ocean.


EDIT: I also wanted to include that Christmas-sensei brought up a wonderful question in response to my presentation on Buddhism in Japan about the physical material used to structure temples/shrines/statues. What are the relationships between the ideology and the execution?

Fisheries and the Distrust of Science

Our second day of preparation for our trip began with an hour of Japanese. 私は一年生ので、むずかしかったです。We went over honorific structure and introductions… hopefully we will be able to practice it more!

Afterward, biology professors Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers came to lead the discussion on the following readings:

  1. Endless Modernization by Satsuki Takahashi
  2. Four-fold Disaster by Satsuki Takahashi

Biology is almost entirely absent in discussion on fisheries. To begin, Professor Selinger asked what disciplines we thought these papers belonged to. I would have never thought to ask a question like that, but it is such a relevant question considering the focus of our trip is to view subjects through an interdisciplinary lens. We decided that the first article seemed like it was written by a (social) historian while the second article seemed to be written by an anthropologist. Biology was never mentioned because whenever fisheries were talked about, there were only nonspecific descriptions–there was no mention of what species, where they came from, etc. I actually didn’t notice this upon reading (shame on me), but I’m glad it was pointed out. I would just assume that scientists would be involved in fishery management, but this is actually not the case! However, we did have two biology professors in the room, so we dove right into population growth curves and what the maximum sustainable yield model is. One of the problems with this model is that it does not account for environmental variation. Basically, it works until it doesn’t.

Professor Johnson showed us a graph depicting the fishery boom, which happened shortly after World War II. What was really surprising (but actually not that surprising when you think about it) was that this pattern–basically, stability then boom then collapse then stability then collapse–happened in pretty much every country. It is not unique to Japan (yay we’re all greedy and ignorant). Another interesting tidbit: when we fish, we tend to take the biggest ones available. This adds a selective pressure, allowing the smallest and/or slowest-growing fish to survive and reproduce. Eventually the fish become all small, which is not desirable for humans. How do we prevent this? The easiest solution would be to either stop fishing or select for small fish, but I doubt anyone would ever do that…. This is probably why we farm fish and genetically modify them to grow bigger and at a faster rate. There is also the Roughgarden model, which basically allows for an optimal population size despite the unknown variables (such as how many fish there are in the population and what their reproduction rate is). Sounds perfect! Except that no one cares for some reason (maybe it’s not as profitable?). Again, there is a problem in the fishery industry in that scientists are only begrudgingly involved, if there’s any involvement.

Hope is a thing with scales. (With all the talk about hope, I couldn’t help myself.) From the second reading, we learn that fishermen described the disaster on March 11, 2011 as four-fold: there was the earthquake (natural), tsunami (natural), radiation contamination (manmade), and deadly rumor (manmade). The words in the parenthesis reference what kind of disasters they were. Something interesting from the reading is that Professor Takahashi makes a distinction between the social repercussions of each type of disaster. Natural disasters bring people together whereas manmade disasters don’t since people don’t want to rebuild in contaminated areas. But there’s hope to be had! Some interesting questions that came up from this reading include: what is hope vs delusion? Is hope having alternative fisheries to sustain you? What about a fishery available for many generations? Or is hope just doing something to pay our bills? (Like fishing out whatever you can to sell then fishing for the next.) And what happens when we use tourism to help out fisheries (like opening a seafood restaurant or farmer’s market)? It seems likely that the fishery will cease to exist.

Questions to ask Professor Takahashi:

  • Does she make a distinction between maximum sustainable yield model and the maximum economical yield model?
  • What extent have these models been modified?
  • How do disasters affect the models?
  • What fisheries models are commonly used?
  • Is there awareness of the Roughgarden model?
  • How much of an impact is the Tragedy of the Commons?
  • How much are scientists involved in policies regrading fisheries?
  • Is there a fear of regulation among Japanese fishermen? (Since there is such a fear among Maine fishermen.)
  • How do fishermen manage to keep the fish so fresh? How local is the fish? How do they access the fish/choose which fish to catch?
  • How much trust is there in the fishermen regarding radiation? (Should we trust where they say the fish come from?

It was another intellectually-engaging day in the Asian Studies conference room! The significant takeaway from this session is that we were able to discuss these readings from a biological perspective. We also were able to prepare some questions for when we meet Professor Takahashi in Japan. Big thank you to Professor Johnson and Professor Ellers for meeting with us, and of course thank you to our senseis for organizing everything.

P.S. Unfortunately, I will be missing the next two meetings (currently writing this post in a hotel room in Baltimore) because I have to watch my sister graduate. But fear not, I will still be doing the readings and updating the blog while I’m away.

P.P.S. The past two discussions had a common theme of distrusting science. It’s interesting to note that Japan has a general trust of science whereas the US does not. So, I want to put in a shameless plug for an outreach project in science communication that Bowdoin students (including myself) have put together: click here.

Fishing for answers, reeling in questions

Continuing discussion today in a similar fashion as yesterday, the group welcomed guests Professor Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers to introduce the topic of fisheries, an important topic for discussing limits to resources and the problems brought to ecosystems by extraction by humans. Before I delve into our discussion on fisheries, I won’t neglect to mention our first keigo lesson which we had today. Keigo is a way of speaking in Japanese during formal introductions and settings. Certain parts of speech may be altered and one must use a different vocabulary. Today’s topic was jikoshōkai or self-introduction. I will be using these often in Tokyo as we meet people who will give us tours, lectures, and invite us into their homes — stay tuned to hear about how these introductions proceed and my takeaways from using keigo! 

Back to fisheries. Fisheries are incredibly relevant to Japan, where fish contributes to people’s diet and is also a distinguishing factor in Japanese culture. To inform our discussion, we read two articles by Satsuki Takahashi: “Endless Modernization: Fisheries Policy and Development in Postwar Japan” looks at the history of Japanese fisheries since the end of World War Two and “Fourfold Disaster: Renovation and Restoration in Post-Tsunami Coastal Japan” places the residents and fishermen of affected areas of the 3/11 disaster at the center of this study and highlights their fears and hopes for the fishery. In order to unpack Takahashi’s arguments and provide context to her work, Professor Johnson provided a presentation on fisheries models and trends in regulation. We explored the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) model, which is the predominant model used to set quotas in fisheries across the globe. Another important concept is Garrett Harding’s “Tragedy of the Commons,” which is the idea that if all of the users of a common pool resource act in self-interest, the resource will eventually be exhausted. Professor Johnson was able to give great detail on how these ideas apply close to home in the Maine fishery. However, no one in our discussion had enough information about the Japan fishery to really figure out how fisheries models apply to the Japanese fishery. Despite this, after today’s discussion we now have the intellectual tools to observe Tsukiji Fish Market with a critical eye and probe Professor Takahashi in person with questions about the Japanese fishery.

5/23 Is modernization really the answer to fishermen

Today we discussed the articles of Satsuki Takahashi, who brought up important issues about fisheries, and Prof. Ellers and Prof. Johnson brought up the leverage in the communication between the fishermen and scientists. The question about fishery is divided into two parts: modernization, or “scientification” of fisheries, and communication with, or delivery of the science to the fishermen.

The motive of Japan’s modernization of fisheries can be viewed as a part of the modernization, or westernization plan of the whole nation, especially in industries. As the professors observed in Japan, Japan has a strong incentive to copy western countries, and fishery is a good example, since the technology Japan developed is a manifestation of many western models and theories. And also, it believes in science and tends to regulate fisheries with scientific reason. However, as we have seen during the meeting, the population model (and its relatives), which is primarily used to predict harvest and analyze fish population and distribution, has a high level of complexity and requirement of huge sets of data and professional assessment. Nonetheless, the models are not easily understandable without some level of education. Thus bridging the leverage between the science and the fishermen becomes a big issue that we all have to face in all regions. Moreover, people have to deal with the conflicts between science and experience of fishermen as well, regarding the question of persuasiveness.

The situation gets more interesting when disasters come into play. As the professors explained, counterintuitively, the manmade disasters, such as radiation, are not necessarily harmful for the local ecosystems. Since the scale of ocean is huge, its ability to purify itself is incredible. Prof. Johnson brought an example that there actually formed a reservoir around Fukuoka where there was a diversity of species, and exactly because people stopped fishing, the fish population was able to restore. And now the concern shifts from fish population being wiped out by radiation to whether people are willing to purchase fish from the radiated area, although it has recovered.

Thinking about all the scientific and humanistic elements of the issue, it is alarming to us that if we cannot bridge the gaps between industry and fishermen, regulators and the fishery communities, and fishing communities and consumers, the difficulties we are facing will not be resolved.