Hybrid Boats for Sakana Banare (Flight From Fish)

Fishermen all across the globe have been hit hard by the increase in fuel prices. Their vessels suck down tremendous amounts of diesel, which now makes up 20-30 percent of their costs in Japan, for example, which is double from what it was 3 years ago. This has led to protests, including one day strikes. While such strikes may not mean so much to people in the States, Japan’s primary traditional diet is fish. Increases in costs have been causing the Sakana Banare, or “flight from fish.” Fishermen fear that people will switch to the less expensive burgers and chicken instead. Recently, the Japanese government has responded with 700 million in funding, promising to pay the most recent of increases themselves — but only to those fishermen who do something to reduce their costs. (Would that the U.S. government put the same conditions on the bailout money to GM and Chrysler.)

The response? Hybrid boats. Yep. When they can, a 150 horsepower electric engine takes over for the 650 horsepower diesel in 62-year-old Tadatoshi Ikeuchi’s “Shinei Maru No. 66”, the vessel with which he searches for scallops, Pacific cod and kelp. Mr. Ikeuchi says that his fuel costs have been reduced to about 75 gallons per day, saving him $100 a day. He describes the vessel as a Prius for the sea. Yet most fear that his hybrid is too little too late for the steadily declining fishing industry.

Ecologically, this is a mixed bag. Less fishermen is generally good for the ocean, as is using less combustion fuel. But if people turn to consuming more beef and chicken products, the increase in carbon footprint and pollution could be considerable as well. Perhaps this will keep whalers at home, which would be great news all the way around.

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