Yui Fisheries Cooperative Association

John Powell and Chris Short from the CCRI have travelled to Japan for the 14th Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons.

One of the many field trips available, was to a fisheries cooperative. John Powell took this trip, as he has previously worked on fisheries related projects. One of these investigated the ‘Social Impacts of Fishing’ and was conducted on behalf of defra.

John continues…

Two hours by bus takes us to the Yui harbour on Suruga Bay near the busy port of Shimizu where we are welcomed by the president of the association, Mr Junichi Miyahara.  We walk down past several dozen shrimp boats tied up at the quay (it turns out today was the end of the spring fishing season for the Sakura Shrimp).  The Cooperative Association is one of the most successful fisheries coops in Japan with over 700 members and 60 active shrimp boats.  In additions they catch whitebait and some shellfish.  The Sakura shrimp makes up about 60% of the catch by volume but contributes over 80% of the income of the Coop.


Although the shrimp itself is unique to the Bay, and commands very high prices in the fish markets (whether sold fresh or dried) the fishery is affected by a similar litany of problems found in fisheries elsewhere: 

  • Declining catch (income is only 50% of the previous year’s income)
  • Decreasing market price (following the Tsunami Japanese people have reduced consumption of luxury items)
  • Need for controlling supply in order to ensure high and stable prices
  • Temperature changes – possibly from climate change
  • Uncertain scientific data.

However, this still remains a highly successful fishery, and young people are keen to enter and to innovate.  As a group of commons researchers and practitioners we were interested in understanding what made this coop successful.  Mr Miyahara and a group of fishermen, explained through an interpreter how the coop was organised:

  • The shrimp are caught at night by paired boats when they rise closer to the surface therefore requiring a high degree of collaboration between boats
  • Shrimp are unloaded locally
  • The cooperative has begun to engage in direct selling through provision of a local restaurant right on the dockside, this has increased visitor numbers who come to eat and purchase the shrimp to the home
  • Rules are made by the Cooperative itself (not imposed from outside) and strictly enforced, and the harvest only takes place in two periods of the year
  • The Association has instigated a shrimp festival to improve social and cultural capital and relations between fishermen and the rest of the community
  • Women are involved in processing, selling and education work with local schools
  • Each vessel owner is responsible for all operational costs and all sales are through the coop which sets rules on catch limits on a daily basis based on close observation of market prices;  profits are allocated equally across core members (primarily the fishermen).


In addition it was explained that during two periods over the previous 40 years the fishermen had united to fight against potentially damaging development and this had created a strong sense of collective action among the fishing community. 

 The younger fishermen are keen to innovate and in recent years the cooperative has achieved the Japanese Marine Eco-Label (MEL) for production and processing.  They have also engaged in branding and promotional activities (such as an annual festival which brings thousands of people into the community), as well as setting up the dockside restaurant and improving storage and transportation facilities.  More recently they have been experimenting with artificial ‘reefs’ of live cedar trees set in concrete which are then strategically located in the Bay.  With a well managed eco-system and seemingly secure incomes young fishermen are keen to get involved in the fishery.  It was fascinating to talk to a strong and cohesive group of fishermen that were actively engaging with their community, their problems, and finding innovative solutions through collective action.

 After long discussions on detailed operation of the fishery some live shrimp caught only a few hours earlier were brought into the room for us to look at.  Then, surprisingly chopstick and bowls were produced and we were encouraged to sample the shrimp more closely.  This was not to everyone’s taste but they were fresh with a slight salty sweet flavour. 


With the fishing season closed we were unable to go out on a boat but we did the next best thing and sat down on the quayside to eat a wonderful meal of fresh shrimp, fired shrimp, whitebait (there was some argument among us at whether these were young sardines, anchovies or something else), rice and soup.