URATO ISLANDS, Japan – When Yoshimasa left his life in the big city to pursue a career as a fisherman, he had dreams of working in nature—what he didn’t realize however, was how his background with computers would play a critical role in helping to rescue his community from tragedy.
On March 10, 2011, Yoshimasa secured a house and fishing vessel on the Urato Islands to begin an oyster cultivation business. But the very next day, on March 11, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami wave that wiped out nearly the entire island—including his hard earned equipment.
When an Operation Blessing disaster relief team came to visit the island to see how they could help this devastated community, staff asked the fishing guild what they needed most. Yoshimasa replied with a simple request: two laptop computers and a Wi-Fi card.
Teams not only returned with the computers and Wi-Fi card, but also generators to restore power as well as critical fishing gear such as floats, anchors, and scallop shells used for cultivating oysters in the plankton rich Matsushima Bay.
With laptop and Wi-Fi in hand, Yoshimasa used his knowledge to develop a website and utilize social media to help the fishing industry on the entire island get back on their feet.
He set up an innovative system where people could purchase vouchers for seafood—paying now and receiving the product when they were back in business. It helped the fishermen of the Urato Islands earn almost $2 million to help rebuild their livelihoods.
Thanks to the help of Operation Blessing partners and Yoshimasa’s efforts, he and his fellow fishermen are back in business cultivating oysters, but there was still one setback: since the tsunami, Yoshimasa had yet to replace his brand new boat that was destroyed and had been sharing a boat with another fisherman.
Operation Blessing had already begun a boat distribution program to help other struggling fishermen and had recently identified a Chinese boat manufacturer to help build more boats. OBI teams asked for Yoshimasa’s input on the boat design and craftsmanship to best meet the fishermen’s needs.
Then, when the new boats were ready to be delivered to the fishermen—teams presented one of them to Yoshimasa, just in time to prepare his oyster cultivation platforms for harvesting in the fall.
In all, Operation Blessing has distributed more than 50 boats to fishermen who lost their equipment during the tsunami.
“Yoshimasa is so grateful for what Operation Blessing has done to help him and his colleagues get back on their feet,” said Don Thomson, country director for OB Japan. “He is now one happy fisherman.”