New methods using radar, satellites, tablet apps and other devices are now helping fishermen on the nation’s northernmost island work in a highly efficient manner. The fishing industry is vital for Hokkaido, which is the largest producer of marine products in Japan.
Wakkanai in northern Hokkaido is one of the nation’s prime fishing locations for the giant Pacific octopus. At the Soya Fishing Port in the city, fisherman Satoshi Kakimoto, 43, unloaded 350 kilograms of the squiggly delicacy in mid-October.
His secret? A calendar forecasting ocean current directions and speeds in the area specially designed for octopus fishing.
“We’re starting to get larger octopuses,” the fisherman said. “The current calendar is pretty accurate.”
Known as the Soyamisaki-oki Choryu Calendar (Current calendar of waters off Cape Soya), the calendar was developed by the Hokkaido Research Organization and Hokkaido University’s Institute of Low Temperature Science in 2009.
The year-long calendar is based on observations on the ocean current made by three high-frequency radars installed on the coast of Soya Strait, or La Perouse Strait. The data is assessed together with past records to come up with the average direction and speed of the ocean flows on any given day.
Octopus fishing in Wakkanai often uses “tarunagashi-ryo” (barrel flowing fishing), a fishing method using baited plastic barrels drifting in the ocean. It is a delicate procedure, as octopuses are unable to reach the traps when the currents are too fast. But when the current is too slow, the creatures show no interest in the bait.
It is no surprise that the calendar became an immense help for local octopus fishermen using this method. It is also used to arrange dates of school events at a junior high school in the city where many of the students’ parents are fishermen.
Meanwhile, Hokkaido fishermen specializing in tuna and bonito are utilizing satellite technology to maximize their catches.
Known as the Traceable and Operational Resource and Environment Data Acquisition System, or TOREDAS for short, the technology predicts the movement of fish based on satellite observations on the amount of plankton, ocean currents and water temperature, as well as past data.
The information, provided via satellite communication, is used by about 20 pelagic fishing boats from across Japan.
“Fishing that was dependent on experience and intuition is starting to transform into a ‘fishing of efficiency’ by timely heading toward abundant fishing grounds,” said Seiichi Saito, a research professor of satellite oceanography who heads Hokkaido University’s Arctic Research Centre. He spearheaded the TOREDAS project, which was completed in 2006.
At the same time, information technology is helping fishermen avoid overfishing.
Hokkaido’s Rumoi is a prime producer of sea cucumbers in the nation. But high demand in China in recent years has sent its price skyrocketing, spurring overfishing and poaching.
In response to the alarming trend, the Shinsei Marine Fishery Cooperative, based in the city, has been charting the amount of sea cucumbers harvested on an iPad app starting in 2011.
Using positioning data from GPS devices equipped on fishing boats, the program allows all members of the organization to share information on how many sea cucumbers were fished at which locations, helping fishermen avoid overfishing.
“In Hokkaido, where there are many people involved in the fishing industry, the distance between researchers and fishermen is relatively close, allowing more practical studies to gain headway,” said a Fisheries Agency official.
The Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research, the central government’s competitive subsidy program, offers financial assistance to researchers in a number of fields. Regarding the field of fisheries and the hydrosphere, Hokkaido University is one of the top institutions, ranking among the University of Tokyo and national research organizations in the number of grants it received.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, nine of the 73 research institutions on the fishing industry run by prefectural governments are located in Hokkaido. It also has the most researchers among all prefectures.
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