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Irabu fishermen, tourists, locals battle for rights to ocean

Date Posted: 2002-09-28

A long-simmering feud between a local Fishermen’s Association, tour promoters and town officials is flaring up again on Irabu Island off Miyako. The fishermen in Irabu have long feuded with tour companies over the rights to conduct recreational diving in the area. The fishermen claim that such activities hamper their efforts to make a living, and the tour operators say that the fishermen only want to squeeze money out of them. In the middle are tourists who have been harassed and in some cases chased away.

In the latest row Irabu Fishermen’s Association Chairman Ryuji Okuhira is protesting against the town’s Ocean Events Planning Team that he says organized a three-day event “E-Love 3-Day Ocean” without consulting the association. Officials with the planning team retort that the fishermen behave like they own the ocean. “The ocean should be for everyone, not only for fishermen, they should understand that,” an official said.

On their part, members of the association placed fishing nets just off the beach where the main events were taking place effectively blocking the entry by pleasure boats to the area. They also had a loudspeaker onboard one of their boats telling people not to come to the area.

Irabu Town has had a budget from the prefecture to promote eco-tourism in the area and has planned the event since a year ago. The planners had arranged boats for cruising, sea kayaks, a yacht race and other events, but could not conduct them as the fishermen’s protest blocked the beach.

Emotions run high on both sides of the dispute and both accuse the other side on acting in bad faith. “We could agree, if the event planners just came to me and negotiated. But they just go ahead and plan these things on their own. I cannot agree with that,” Okuhira says.

Town officials see the problem other way. “This year’s event was a test case for us. We learned how to operate this kind of event, and what stance the association is going to take. We are ready to talk, but first they have to stop disturbing people who are enjoying life. We are working hard to promote the town, and this gives us a bad image. The fishermen are not the only ones who should be allowed to use the ocean. We are ready to take this fight to the court if necessary,” an Irabu Town official says.

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