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Fishing Industry

Photographer: Everett Kennedy


In March 2011, the Hatakeyama family saw their 2.5 million dollar oyster business destroyed by the tsunami following the Great East Japan earthquake. In the pristine coastal inlet of Moune Bay where they live in Miyagi prefecture, 44 out of the 52 households were washed away by the tsunami and most of the fishing boats destroyed. One of the three Hatakeyama brothers, Makoto, headed to open sea to try to save his boat, but was swept up in the giant waves. His boat was destroyed, but Makoto was able to swim to a neighboring island and survived.


Standing on a high hill above the inlet, the father’s house survived. Without electricity and contact with the outside world for many days, the family members were able to survive by eating the food stock cooked over a fire in the backyard, and by collecting water from mountain streams.


Five years later, their business is rebuilt and thriving. Production of oysters and scallops is at a new record high. Local residents who lost their homes and livelihoods have discovered a new sense of community and pride in their fishing heritage. The Hatakeyama family have become leaders of the economic, social and environmental revival of the tsunami devastated region of northeastern Japan.


The grandfather, Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, oyster farmer, writer and environmentalist, is a veteran of experiencing adversity. Forty years ago, the local oyster industry was in decline due to bad water quality. Through his research he discovered that deforestation by the rivers in the neighboring mountains was reducing the nutrients flowing into the local bays. With local fishermen and farmers he began replanting the mountains with broad leaf trees. The quality of the waters improved. He wrote about his findings on how the forests, rivers and ocean are vitally connected in the book 'The Forest Yearns for the Ocean'. The book became a bible for Japanese environmentalism and in 2011 he was awarded the United Nations Forest Hero gold medal.


One month after the tsunami, the Hatakeyama family was contacted by Louis Vuitton. The French fashion house was impressed by the family’s environmental activities and donated over one million dollars to revitalize the local oyster industry. The gift was also in recognition of the long and friendly relationship between French and Japanese oyster farmers; the Japanese had helped to revitalize the French oyster industry 50 years ago.


The Louis Vuitton money was used primarily to pay the salaries of some 35 fishermen over two years, until they could make local fisheries viable again. It was a significant motivator for the fishermen to rebuild their lives.