9 YEARS SINCE DISASTER: Ukedo wholesale market reopens, raising hopes for fisheries revival in Namie

The regional seafood wholesale market at Ukedo fishing port in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie, crippled by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, was reopened on April 8, resuming auctions for the first time in nine years. Since the disaster, fish landed at the port would be transported overland for about an hour to another market in the city of Soma. The reopened Ukedo market is expected to ease the transport burden on local fishermen and help revitalize the fisheries industry in the area. According to the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association, 23 fishing boats belonging to its Ukedo chapter and another from the Tomikuma chapter in the town of Tomioka set sail on the morning of the day. They hauled in about 2 tons in total, including "hirame" left-eyed flounder and "nameta" slime flounder. The catch was auctioned shortly after 9 a.m., with brokers making winning bids one after another amid price-soliciting calls from cooperative officials acting as auctioneers. Prices fetched were lower than hoped for. Hirame flounder, which fetched about 2,000 yen per kilogram around March, plunged to 100-800 yen. Cooperative officials blamed the slump on a supply-demand imbalance caused by shrinking consumption at luxury "ryotei" Japanese restaurants and sushi shops in the Tokyo metropolitan region hit by the coronavirus epidemic. Several species of fresh fish dispatched from Ukedo earlier in the day were on display around noon at the Aeon Namie store, the town's sole supermarket. The Aeon retail chain's seven outlets in Fukushima Prefecture, including the Namie store, added fish from Ukedo to their seafood offering from April 9. Port and wholesale market facilities in the Ukedo area were swept away by the tsunami. Some of the facilities, including cargo-handling equipment, were restored in October last year. Following the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant, crippled by the tidal wave disaster, local residents were forced to evacuate elsewhere. The central government lifted an evacuation order for the town at the end of March 2017. Test fishing operations are underway, but they are restricted to certain offshore areas and limited to three to four times a week due to safety concerns stemming from the nuclear mishap. "Today, we took a real first step forward," said Koichi Shiba, 81-year-old president of seafood wholesale and processing company Shibaei Suisan, which has rebuilt a factory. Shiba acted as a broker at the reopened market after a long interval. "Nine years were quite long indeed," Ichiro Takano, 72, a cooperative board member who represents the Ukedo area, echoed. "I'm so glad at the reopening that I was moved to the point of tears." [Photo] Brokers and others engage in auctioning at the Ukedo regional wholesale market, reopened after a hiatus of nine years. (Translated by Kyodo News)