It has been 16 years since the closure of the dike across Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture. The wall of floodgates is referred to as a "guillotine." Since the closure, widespread environmental changes in the area have reached a serious level.
Three years ago, the Fukuoka High Court ordered the government to open the floodgates. The deadline was Dec. 20, but the government has yet to fulfill its obligation.
This unusual turn of events came about because the government is not at all eager to open the gates.
The high court ruling recognized the causal association between the closing of the bay and the damage to the local fishing industry. Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan decided not to appeal the case, and so the ruling was finalized.
However, the farmers working the reclaimed land were opposed to the ordered opening of the floodgates on the grounds that the measure would negatively impact their farming. They petitioned the Nagasaki District Court for an injunction against the opening of the gates, and in November, the court issued the order, barring the government from opening them.
The government has officially explained that it did not open the floodgates because of these two conflicting judicial rulings. Yet, was it not the government that brought this impasse upon itself?
The government refuses to acknowledge the causal relationship between the closing of the floodgates and the damage to the fishing industry pointed out by the Fukuoka High Court. Because the government did not claim that the closing of the floodgates had damaged the fishing industry at the hearings, in the suit filed by the farmers, the Nagasaki District Court had no choice but to rule in their favor.
This land reclamation project was originally planned as a means to increase rice production during the postwar years when food was scarce. It was never halted even when the government started reducing the production of rice crops. Although the project was criticized as a wasteful program, the government kept it alive by adding new objectives such as disaster prevention to it. The project was finally completed in 2008.
The floodgates were closed in 1997, and it became noticeable around that time that the number of bivalves, or clams, were dropping and "nori," or seaweed crops, were decreasing. There used to be tideland and shallow waters spreading over as much as 3,550 hectares, and all of that disappeared together with numerous wildlife including the "mutsugoro," or mudskipper.
There has also been a shift in the tidal range as well as the ocean currents. There is no way that the environmental impact is minimal.
The Fukuoka High Court ordered the floodgates be opened for five years so that there could be an assessment of how much the environment would improve during that time and prevent further damage to the fishing industry. The government should open the floodgates and conduct an investigation with an active commitment to determine the various "abnormalities" in and around the bay, as well as the entire Ariake Sea area.
We urge Governor Hodo Nakamura of Nagasaki Prefecture, who is vehemently opposed to the opening of the gates, to understand the importance of such an assessment.
Of course, when the floodgates are opened, all efforts should be made to ensure that damage to farming would be limited to a minimum. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is adamant that damage can be prevented by securing irrigation water for farming. If so, then the only thing that should be done is to thoroughly address the concerns of the farmers to gain their understanding.
The government should not maintain its stance of leaving things up to the judiciary. It should actively seek a path that will help overcome the various conflicts within the community.
The farmers and the fishermen are at each other's throats, while neighboring prefectures also remain in disagreement. This counterproductive situation is a by-product of a massive public works project, which the central government aggressively promoted. The government must not look the other way from its heavy responsibility.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29
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