The best octopus fisherman in town

Japan, July 6, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Carol Skowron/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Fisherman Isami Hoshi (in blue head wrap) in Minamisanriku, Japan. Photo: Carol Skowron/Mercy Corps

He could be a fisherman from almost any country — the tanned face, the weathered clothes, the rubber boots, and the sense of being at home at the sea. We caught up with Isami Hoshi on the oceanfront in Minamisanriku, just as he was heading home for the day. Peace Winds staff Sachie Saijo explained that Hoshi was the best octopus fisherman around. Prior the earthquake and tsunami, he and his crew would bring in a ton of octopus a year.

Now, just a little over three months after the earthquake, he was anxious to get back to it. Hoshi had owned several boats, some of which had been lost in the disaster. He and his brand-new boat — which had just arrived on March 5, six days before the tsunami — had been spared because he had been out at sea when the earthquake hit. He returned four days later to find a totally changed world.

The port is still barely functional. A pickup truck with two barrels serves as a gas station. The steel beams that once supported the ice facility are all that is left of that structure. But the boats that survived or were not totally damaged are there, under repair or ready to resume their trade. And the fishermen are anxious to get back to work.

All along Japan's tsunami-affected coast, Mercy Corps and partner Peace Winds are working with local fishermen, fishing associations and markets to return the time-honored — and economically critical — fishing industry to full health.

The market in Minamisanriku was set to reopen the morning of July 4. So he set his traps on July 1, hoping to get a good catch in time for the market. He would be back on July 3 at midnight to see what was there. He hoped for a good catch, but who knew what he would find?

As it turned out, the market opening on July 4 was a big event, complete with television and media attention. And what about Hoshi and his octopus? He showed up with a good catch of robust octopus to sell. He is back at work again, and likely still the best octopus fisherman in town.