The Fisherman and the Forest

May 25, 2010

This past weekend I met a fisherman named Gori-san. When not plying his trade on the Pacific coast Gori-san can be found in the mountains of Iwate prefecture planting trees. Gori-san understands that the health of the ocean, from which he makes his livelihood, is dependant on healthy forests. In Iwate and Miyagi prefectures fishermen have committed themselves to the task of re-establishing healthy forests in the mountain watersheds that feed the ocean. It is a phenomena that was started some twenty years ago when a fisherman named Hatakeyama Shigeatsu made the connection between declining oyster populations, mountain forests and the rivers which feed the ocean.

Hatakeyama-san knew from experience that declining fish stocks were connected to the health of the forest but he struggled to find any scientific research to verify this. Scientific specialists were seemingly not interested in the connection between ocean, forest and river. Eventually Hatakeyama-san did manage to locate research papers by a Professor Katsuhiko Matsunaga of the School of Fisheries Sciences of Hokkaido University that explained, in scientific terms, what he empirically knew.

According to the research conducted by Matsunaga-san a decline in upstream broad-leaf forests had led to a decline in fluvic acid iron that is created when the humus formed by the falling leaves of trees is dissolved in rainwater and carried to the ocean through the river systems. The fluvic acid iron is essential for the growth of phytoplankton, the presence of which is in turn essential for the formation of rich ecosystems in coastal areas.

A decline in Japan’s broad-leaf forests had resulted from the vast plantations of coniferous trees that were established to supply the timber industry. Hatakeyama-san saw that this trend could be reversed especially as Japan’s timber industry was now itself in decline. Armed with the scientific evidence Hatakeyama-san was able to convince other fishermen of the urgent need to re-establish diverse forests of broad-leaf and deciduous trees in the mountain watersheds. When plantation trees are clear cut by forestry workers the fishermen replant appropriate species to restore the health of the ocean on which they are so dependent.


3 Responses to “The Fisherman and the Forest”

  1. Jocelyn Says:

    Hi Dion,

    Very interesting reading…seems like you are learning a lot and having a great experience. I say ‘seems like’ as this ex(as if)-people care would like to know how you and Asako are 🙂

  2. Lisa Says:

    Hey Dion and Asako.

    Inspiring story. I’m really enjoying reading your learnings. Geologically and perhaps climatically (?) Japan has so much in common with NZ. Seems like a lot of what you are learning could be applicable here.

    Actually, I am curious. What is the climate and hydrology like by comparison? Is it a bit like the north island volcanic plateau? I imagine it is more like the north island than the south island of Aotearoa. Am I right?

    Also wondering if you have come across much mushroom cultivation on your travels? Don’t forget to take some ‘spore prints’!

    aroha nui,

    Lisa J

  3. Matt Says:

    Hi Dion,
    That is inspirational stuff, go the fisherman. Don’t reflect well on good old NZ though, bloody pine trees, sheep and cows will be(are!) the down fall of our fisheries.


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