The Yomiuri ShimbunAll parties involved in this issue should seek a compromise to finally bring an end to this protracted, deep-rooted dispute.
In a lawsuit regarding the state’s land reclamation project in Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture, the Fukuoka High Court has handed down a ruling that voided the validity of a finalized ruling that ordered the central government to open floodgates in a dike built across the bay.
Shelving a previous order given by the same high court is an extraordinary development. If this latest ruling is finalized, the Fukuoka High Court’s order to open the gates will effectively become invalid.
The state had been ordered to pay a daily fine of ¥900,000 for its refusal to open the floodgates after the previous ruling, resulting in the payment of ¥1.2 billion in total. The latest ruling also accepted these payments should stop.
In its latest ruling, the Fukuoka High Court concluded that fishing rights held by local fishermen at the time of the finalized ruling had expired, and therefore they “had no right to claim the gates should be opened.” Strikingly, the method used for the decision focused on a legal interpretation and did not touch on the point of contention regarding the impact of the gates’ closure on the volume of fish catches.
Fishermen who operate in areas along the Ariake Sea are dissatisfied with the ruling and plan to file an appeal.
Considering how this process has unfolded, it is obvious how difficult it would be to settle this situation under lower court rulings.
Local fishermen have demanded the gates be opened because their closure “has changed tides and currents, and resulted in poor catches.” Farmers on the reclaimed land have staunchly opposed opening the gates because it would cause “salt damage” to their land.
Top court must play part
A flurry of lawsuits was filed by both sides. The Fukuoka High Court ruling that ordered the central government to open the floodgates was finalized in 2010. In 2013 and 2017, the Nagasaki District Court decided provisional dispositions and then handed down the ruling to suspend the opening of the gates. This can only be described as the height of turmoil.
The situation, in which the central government had an obligation to pay financial penalties regardless of whether the gates were opened, can also be described unusual.
At the time of the 2010 high court ruling, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan decided not to appeal, saying, “I have my own knowledge on this issue.” The then agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister recalled that the government should have appealed and sought a path to an out-of-court settlement.
The current situation appears to be different if the central government had lodged an appeal and the Supreme Court had made a ruling and a settlement had been reached.
Meanwhile, over the years, the courts have frequently urged both sides to find an out-of-court settlement. In 2016, when the Nagasaki District Court had recommended all sides find a compromise, the central government proposed a plan to establish a ¥10 billion fund that included support measures for the local fishing industry. This fund would be a step taken to keep the gates closed.
Even during the latest court case, the Fukuoka High Court twice recommended the state and fishermen reach a settlement. Fishing industry groups that had called for the gates to be opened indicated their intention to accept the fund proposal, but fishermen who were litigants in the lawsuit rejected this plan. It was unfortunate that a good opportunity for compromise was spurned.
The government’s position is that a settlement centered on establishing the fund is the best solution.
The fishermen and the central government share the view to strive to bring new life to the Ariake Sea. The Supreme Court should seek to deliver a comprehensive resolution, including an amicable settlement, that enables the local fishing and farming industries to coexist.