Taking Scallop Sales into Their Own Hands: How a Hokkaido fishing community rose above poverty

Abstract

This case offers participants a window on empowerment of fishing communities. In the early Showa period (1925-1930s), most small-scale fishermen in Hokkaido, the northern-most, sparsely populated island of Japan, lived in appalling poverty, and Monbetsu on the Okhotsk Sea was no exception. One crucial factor in the poverty of the fishermen was the fishery rights monopolies held by local men of influence, such as merchants and chief priests, who were called oyakata (masters). Small-scale fishermen, who usually did not have such rights, had to pay a fee to fish. Another crucial factor was the shikomi (lay-in) system. In this system, fishermen purchased the fishing gear necessary for work, such as nets, using funds advanced by merchants, who were called the "shikomi masters." In addition to such local economic constraints, the economic crash of 1927 and declining Sino-Japanese trade (which included scallops) contributed to the poverty of small-scale fishermen.

The Fishery Act of 1933 was revised to allow such association, to increase business. Masatoki Furuya, the president of the Monbetsu fishermen's cooperative, decided to take advantage of this opportunity and start cooperative sales to relieve the fishermen's poverty. Without sufficient funding of their own, Furuya worked in cooperation with Takatoshi Ando, the manager of Department of Fisheries of Hokkaido Prefecture, to raise funds. When they were finally prepared to begin the cooperative sales, they heard the news of the collapse of scallop market prices.

A brief Epilogue recounts the pathway Furuya and Ando found to begin the cooperative sales and the Monbetsu fishermen made the first steps to free themselves from the control of shikomi merchants.

The case is targeted at students who study rural or international development and at community leaders, professionals, and volunteers engaged in fishing community development. It can be taught in a single session of 60 to 90 minutes.

This case was prepared by Midori Kawabe, Associate Professor at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (TUMST), in collaboration with Shuu Mori, the former executive director of JF Marine Bank Hokkaido, with the sponsorship of the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development (FASID).

The case has been taught by Midori Kawabe in the course of Marine Environmental Studies and the course of Food Science and Technology at the Graduate School of Marine Science and Technology, TUMST.

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