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Revitalization of Ariake Sea holds key to solving issue of Isahaya Bay gates

The Yomiuri ShimbunA court has handed down a decision exactly opposite to one given by another court. Once again, the “twist” in judicial decisions was not solved.

In the lawsuit over the land reclamation project in Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture, the Nagasaki District Court has ordered the central government to suspend the opening of floodgates at a dike in the bay.

The ruling said opening the floodgates could cause seawater and sea breeze damage to the reclaimed land, as well as causing a partial loss of agricultural water supply, thus concluding that the “damage could be serious.” It also presented a view that even if the floodgates were opened, “there would not be much effect on the improvement of the fishing environment.”

Similar to the provisional disposition decided by the Nagasaki District Court in 2013, the latest ruling has recognized the appeals made by, among others, farmers on the reclaimed land.

In yet another lawsuit in 2010, the Fukuoka High Court recognized the harm to fishing and ordered the central government to open the gates to examine the effect on fishing for five years. As the government decided not to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, based on the decision made by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the high court ruling was finalized.

If the central government had appealed to the top court and the latter had set a judicial precedent, which has a strong influence on lower court decisions, long-lasting confusion would not have occurred.

Despite emphasizing that he had his own knowledge of the matter, Kan failed to come up with any effective ways to solve the issue.

Fishermen and others living on the coast of the Ariake Sea call for the opening of the floodgates. Meanwhile, farmers and others on the reclaimed land stand in direct opposition to the opening of the gates. This is the underlying structure of the trials involving the land reclamation project in Isahaya Bay. A total of seven cases are in dispute, with the rift between both sides still deep.

Stop wasting public funds

As judicial decisions remain divided, the central government is obliged to pay penalties to one of the two sides, irrespective of whether it opens the gates. This is an unusual circumstance.

As the government has not implemented the opening of the gates at this point, it pays fines of ¥900,000 a day to the fishermen’s side, with the total sum having now reached ¥800 million. This situation, in which the government continues spending public money with no solution to the conflict in sight, should end.

It is regrettable that the court-mediated settlement talks at the Nagasaki District Court, which aimed at settling the seven lawsuits collectively, broke down in the end, thus leading to the latest judicial decision.

In the settlement talks, the central government presented a proposal of establishing a ¥10 billion fund that incorporates measures to support fishermen operating in the Ariake Sea. It can be said that the government, which has advanced the land reclamation project in the bay as a national policy, has made clear once again its intention of finding solutions to the issue with no opening of the gates.

Among fishermen’s groups from Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Nagasaki and Saga prefectures, all except the Saga group have taken a stance of accepting the settlement proposal, saying, “Even putting aside the opening of the gates, we want to prioritize the revitalization of the Ariake Sea.” This represents a big step forward when considering how things came to this pass, with the issue at a stalemate for so long.

Twenty years have passed since the floodgates were closed. As long as the central government maintains its stance of not opening the gates, how it tackles the revitalization of the Ariake Sea will hold the key to the solution of the issue. It is essential for the government to make further efforts to win the trust of the fishermen.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 18, 2017)Speech



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