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.

Is the Stability/Sustainability worth it?


Although we learned to introduce ourselves in first year Japanese (at the basic level) and then again in second year using Keigo, today’s morning was dedicated to further enriching our self-introductions and preparing our answers for questions related to our interest and research project, specifically the questions of WHY?


Presenting the facts about oneself isn’t challenging when compared to answering questions of WHY? We need to get our stories straight by the time we meet the first Sensei this coming week! or at least I do…

I have never really taken time to think about fisheries before. I’ve never really wondered how the fishing industry is regulated and managed, or even how the life of a fisherman might be. Today’s focus on fisheries sparked that curiosity.

According to Professor Olaf Ellers there are two prevalent themes:

1. The view of copying western culture after WWII (“playing catch-up”)

2. General appreciation and believe in Science…except in Fisheries.

Yesterday we discussed the importance of interdisciplinary approaches, so it came to me as a surprise to learn that biology is often excluded in the policy-making in fisheries. In fact, from today’s discussion, it almost seemed as if there is tension between the two groups of experts, the scientists and fishermen. While scientists try to establish a sense of insurance in the business by preventing overfishing and other harmful effects of harvesting fish, the fishermen try to establish a sense of immediate security and immediate profit, as they prioritize their daily living rather than future, which to a certain extent understandable. Fishermen need to pay the monthly bills this month, not in four years…

Regardless, the subject of sustainability is crucial for the future generations of not only fish, but also humans on earth. Professor Amy Johnson simply yet in detail manner explained the different modeling graphs used for policy-making. The general trend in fisheries tend to be that before modernization, fish are seen as an inexhaustible resource. After modernization, the use of technology peaks the fish landings and creates a prime example of overfishing. Regulation are then put in place to try to restore the fish population. However, several years after the the set regulation-the fishery crashes.

The most common model is that of a parabola shaped graph that is difficult to manage and use due to the need of accurate yet inaccessible information. My question is: why is this model still being used when Joan Roughgarden’s model was developed in 1996 to counterbalance the uncertainty of many of the factors? Although this may seem cynical, I think it is because Roughgarden’s model, although it provides security and stability for the coming years, it does not offer the maximum N (profit)… and so it seems undesirable.

With the need to make a living, the fishermen in the Tohoku area are still suffering due to the fourth disaster in 2011, “the rumor.” Radiation Stigma that dates back to the late 20th century, surrounds their fish, will they be able to experience the same level of success than before the disaster? What is the estimated time period to a full restoration of the Tohoku area fisheries?

Ironical Fun Fact: Areas affected my a natural man-made restoration (radiation/nuclear activity) tend to develop into oasis in which diversity of flora and fauna flourish.



Dive Right In


Hajimemashite. Julian Garrison to moushimasu. Connecticut no Westport to iu


machi kara mairimashita. Nihon no anime wo mite,nihongo ga kirei de omoshiroi kotoba dato omoita


koto ga kikkakede, nihongo no benkyou wo hajimemashita.


Welcome to 自己紹介(Jikoshoukai), or self-introduction. Japanese has a variety of different structures and forms for different social situations, and this is one we’ll be using a lot. Here, I used “Keigo,” which encompasses both honorific and humble forms, and specifically I used the humble forms in introducing myself, where I’m from, and why I’m interested in Japanese. We learned Keigo this past year in second year Japanese at Bowdoin; meanwhile, Ethan (who was abroad) and Karen (who’s in first-year Japanese) are basically getting a crash course in Keigo today and these next few days. がんばる!Good luck!


Our readings for today, “Four-fold Disaster” and “Endless Modernization: Fisheries Policy and Development in Postwar Japan,” were both authored by Satsuki Takahashi, who we’ll actually be meeting while we’re in Japan. As for lecture, Professors Amy Johnson and Olaf Ellers (in my mind, the dynamic duo of marine biology) talked to us about fisheries and population growth models, using the readings as a springboard and Maine’s cod fishery as a key example. Put simply, fisheries around the world, regardless of species, have followed the same pattern: a period of high harvest rates, followed by decline as regulators and scientists alike try to figure out sustainable quotas, then a crash and collapse of the entire fishery. Rinse and repeat. You’d think we’d learn by now? Today’s discussion also had echoes of our discussion yesterday about how historians engage with the sciences; in this case, how do fisheries regulators and fishermen engage with scientists in determining acceptable catch limits. Turns out, scientists are often distrusted when it comes to things like fisheries; it doesn’t help that some models, such as the Maximum Sustainable Yield model, usually don’t work (since they fail to account for environmental variability). People simply, and understandably, don’t like being told where, when, what, and how to fish, especially when historically these fisheries may have operated just fine without regulator or scientist intervention. But technology advances and with it our ability to catch vast quantities of fish.

I didn’t quite get the chance to bring it up today, but community-based fisheries management, mentioned in “Endless Modernization”  and a concept that came up a lot in several of my classes last semester, is also another possible strategy. It gets the fishermen on the ground involved with the research or monitoring and regulation of their own fisheries, alongside rather than at odds with scientists and regulators. If I recall correctly, Maine’s lobster fishery practices community-based management to quite a degree of success. I think it’s also interesting how this distrust of science could play into or inform my own project on aquariums and how they serve the dual purpose of engaging in conservation efforts as well as educating the public of the value of marine life and the oceans.

Edit (5/24/17): Almost forgot to include the questions for Satsuki Takahashi I came up with while reading the two readings, and also some that we came up with as a group:

  • How do consumers and fishermen alike balance the cultural/social/economic value of fish with the sigma or fear of radiation-contaminated fish?
  • What substitutes are available, or is it a matter of simply shifting to a different region for purchase/import?
  • How does contamination (or fear of it) indirectly affect consumers (public and commercial) of fish? Economically? Mentally? Socially?
  • Are there any regional specialties (of seafood) in radiation-contaminated regions and, if so, what are perceptions (consumer, fisher, commercial) of those? Are they valued enough as regional specialties to warrant the (perceived) risk?
  • How do biology and ecology fit into this radiation-contamination story? That is, what biological and ecological forces are also at work?
  • To what extent is there (fishermen) fear or wariness of regulation in Japan?
  • What fisheries models are being used in Japan and how does radiation alter these models?
  • If applicable, how do scientists or policymakers in Japan incentivize adoption of these models by fishermen? Is it enough to overcome any distrust?


As an aside, and before I forget, I was also interviewed by Tom Porter from Communications about my project. Apparently, Communications wants to do a piece on our trip before and during/after we leave for Japan. Pretty exciting! Hopefully I spoke loud enough…