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Divers, fishermen feud in Miyako

Date Posted: 2006-12-22

Battle lines continue to be drawn in Okinawa’s southern region, as fishermen and diving companies disagree on who has rights to the coastal waters.

The Fishermen’s Association argues that “the ocean is our life line, and if leisure boats or diving boats come and disturb the fishing grounds, we can’t live”. The dive companies counter with the argument “It’s the same problem. We live also by tourists’ diving fees. If we can’t use the waters, how can we ask tourists to come to Miyako?”

At issue are the fertile fishing grounds off Irabu Island. The waters are essential to the fishing industry, but are also excellent for diving, attracting thousands of tourists and divers each year. Fishermen charge the divers interfere with the fish, and reduce their catches.

The feud has been more than ten years in the making, leading leaders of both industries to meet last March in an attempt to reach a compromise. Initially, it appeared they had succeeded, striking a deal where fishermen would contribute ¥500 each to the diving industry in exchange for the boats staying at bay. When the agreement was made in April, every fisherman made the payment, but dive group officials say it’s not happening any more. “We don’t know what’s being paid,” said one official. “I can’t trust this money.”

Both sides have taken the matter to court, but no ruling has been made. The dive groups argue the winter season is most popular for tourists because of the warm ocean currents off Miyakojima City. Without the diving, many would not come, putting the tourism industry at risk.

The fishermen have become bellicose, taking out advertisements in local newspapers, telling all who will read that “we want more strict guidelines for fishing.” The fishing boats have begun blocking the fishing areas to keep divers out. “It’s too much putting the watch boats out,” protests the dive group. “Why won’t the Coast Guard stop them immediately?” The Coat Guard says “both sides have their own claims, so we can’t comment. The court will give a ruling soon.”

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