New Year's traditional ceremony at Fukushima port

Fishers at one of the northeastern Japanese ports damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami have held a traditional ceremony to mark the New Year.

Ukedo port in the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture suffered severe damage to its breakwaters, seawalls and other infrastructure when it was hit by the disaster. Work to rebuild the facility was completed last year.

The ceremony, which is said to date back about 100 years, took place on Sunday, with some 300 people participating. It began with a local Shinto priest performing a ritual in front of fishing boats.

Then, 14 ships carrying fishers and their family members set off, fluttering colorful flags that are usually unfurled to indicate large catches.

The fishers offered ceremonial sake to their boats to pray for good hauls and the safety of their operations over the new year.

The port is situated about 7 kilometers north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which experienced meltdowns when the disaster struck.

Fishers in Fukushima conducted test operations off the local coast after the nuclear accident. They limited the amounts and types of marine products they caught, as well as the frequency of fishing to guarantee the safety of the products.

They ended the test fishing last year and started to increase their catches in stages. But volumes of hauls have remained at roughly 20 percent of levels seen before the accident. A major challenge is tackling negative images about Fukushima marine products.

The representative of the local fishery cooperative, Takano Ichiro, said his organization will work to increase the frequency of fishing so that more people can engage in the industry. He said he wants consumers to eat Fukushima fish as they are fresh and delicious.