June 16, 2014
EDITORIAL: Open floodgates to restore the Ariake Sea
(社説)諫早湾干拓 有明海再生は開門から

The government is being forced to pay 490,000 yen (about $4,900) to plaintiffs per day as a penalty because it is not abiding by a finalized court ruling.

Needless to say, the fine is coming out of taxpayer money. The unbelievable penalty stems from a 2010 Fukuoka High Court ruling.

In 1997, Nagasaki Prefecture’s Isahaya Bay, located in the western part of the Ariake Sea in the Kyushu region, was closed off from the sea by a wall of floodgates for a government land reclamation project. As a result, a wide area of tidal land disappeared.

The 2010 court ruling ordered the government to open some of the floodgates within three years to assess the impact the opening will have on the environment in the sea. Though the deadline for the opening came in December 2013, the government has yet to comply.

Subsequently, the plaintiffs, many of whom are engaged in the local fishing industry, filed a petition with a court to require the government to abide by the ruling. As a result, the fine was assessed until the government complied.

Why does the government refuse to comply? The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says that the Nagasaki prefectural government and people engaged in farming the reclaimed land are opposed to the opening of the gates.

In November 2013, the Nagasaki District Court issued an injunction that sided with the farmers’ request barring the opening of the floodgates. The farmers also filed a petition to force the government to comply with the court's decision. Their demand that the government be forced to pay 490,000 yen to the plaintiffs per day if it opens the gates was also approved by the court.

Whether it opens the floodgates or not, the government has to pay a penalty. Saying, “Opening the floodgates or being prohibited from opening the floodgates, we cannot take sides on the two opposing positions,” the government is caught in a dilemma.

However, behind the conflicting court rulings is the government’s stubborn stance.

The government has yet to acknowledge the causal relationship between the closing of the bay and damage to the local fishing industry. The stance worked to the disadvantage of people engaged in fishing in the hearings at the Nagasaki District Court.

It is futile to spend more time for arguments in courts. It is the time to leave the judicial system for now and turn attention to the situation in the bay.

In the huge reservoir set up in the closed bay, the water quality has deteriorated, where noxious blue-green algae is being generated in large quantities every year. When the water level in the reservoir rises, the water there is discharged outside the closed bay. As a result, the reservoir has become a source of pollution in the Ariake Sea.

After the bay was closed, benthos, such as lugworms, decreased sharply in the entire Ariake Sea. Some researchers show that the decrease could be one of the causes of the damage to the fisheries industry.

In 2002, the agriculture ministry opened the floodgates for a short period. Then, the number of benthos increased sharply in less than a month. If seawater is allowed to flow into the reservoir, part of the purification function of the tidal land will be restored. As a result, a way to improve the environment in the reservoir and the Ariake Sea will be gained.

Opponents of opening the gates say that if they are opened, the livelihoods of farmers will be damaged. However, the ministry is showing confidence in measures to prevent adverse effects. If farmers have anxieties over these preventative steps, the ministry will be able to strengthen the measures.

What we cannot understand is the Nagasaki prefectural government's insistence on continuing to refuse even discussions on opening the floodgates. How much longer will it allow the conflict between local people to continue?

Now is the time for all the people concerned to combine their wisdom toward the restoration of the environment in the Ariake Sea and reconciliation between local people.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 15