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Boatloads of benevolence

Seafood industry still aiding Japanese peers after 2011 tsunami

Posted: December 1, 2012 - 9:28pm  |  Updated: December 1, 2012 - 9:41pm

ANCHORAGE —The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission Inc. had good news from Japan just in time for Thanksgiving.

The nonprofit group raised more than $375,000 for tsunami relief efforts in 2011. This summer, Canadian Linda Ohama helped the group distribute the money to Japanese fishermen.

Ohama, who is currently in Japan, delivered the good news in a Nov. 20 email.

“Last week, I saw the two small boats that the Arahama fishermen were able to purchase with your donation! They were putting on the names: Alaska Maru 1 and Alaska Maru 2!!” Ohama wrote the group.

The Miyagi Fishermen’s Association received $5,700 for the vessels earlier in the fall, and said 23 families would benefit from the boats.

Ohama passed on thanks from the fishermen who received the boats, and said they talked about how each dollar was spent with gratitude.

The new fishing vessels are just one of 10 projects AFIRM supported.

The Alaska money has purchased various fishing supplies, storage tanks, air conditioners for a sorting plant, a forklift and truck for a market, a training simulator for a local high school, and assorted safety equipment. More than 1,000 fishermen, and even more families, have benefited.

Ohama, who helped identify the projects, has seen many of the projects successfully funded and fishermen return to the sea.

“I have (seen them come to fruition) and each of them is so wonderful to witness,” Ohama wrote in an email about her efforts in Japan. “The gratitude and the giving coming together.

But AFIRM Chair Larry Cotter said that it is Ohama to whom they’re grateful for all her help in finding an effective way to distribute aid.

“We raised close to $400,000 after the tsunami, and then the question is how’s it going to be spent in the best possible way?” Cotter said. “... When Linda came along, we knew just where to go.”

AFIRM Secretary-Treasurer Mark Vinsel said the group was connected with Ohama after putting the word out that they were looking for assistance helping fishermen impacted by the tsunami.

Ohama told the Alaskans about fishermen in Sendai who had everything they needed to get back on the water, except for lifejackets. The group provided $5,500 for the lifejackets, and the men were able to return to fishing right away.

Then, Ohama worked with them to find others in need of assistance. The group prepared a form for the Japanese to fill out, seeking information on how much money was needed, who would benefit, and where the people applying were located. Ohama took the forms with her when she went to Japan in June.

“She met with all these different fishing groups throughout the region,” Vinsel said.

Ohama said she found the projects for AFIRM to support while traveling the coastline of Tohoku.

“It is not difficult to meet the fishermen because most of the towns and harbors that were swept away were fishing and farming towns,” Ohama wrote.

Ohama also translated the forms for AFIRM, Vinsel said. She has stayed in touch with the Alaskans through Skype and email while abroad.

Ohama said her interest in helping the fishermen came from a variety of factors. She grew up in a small prairie community on family farm where everyone helped each other out, and her grandfather was a fisherman in British Columbia. Ohama is also anchored to coastal Japan through her maternal grandmother, who is from a fishing town there.

She headed to Japan this summer as part of the “Canada-Tohoku-Japan Cloth Letters” project that started in Vancouver, B.C., after the tsunami. Now, she’s also working on a documentary about the Tohoku region.

“Sometimes life just puts you in a position where two things are before you that could be connected ... so maybe I am just a connector,” Ohama wrote in an email. “Others have also called me a ‘Watari Dori’, a bird of passage that bridges two places.”

The Alaskan side of the connection Ohama helped create involved a wide swath of the fishing industry, Cotter and Vinsel said.

Fishermen, processors, and entire industry came together on the fundraising effort.

“The response was phenomenal,” Vinsel said.

In the Bering Sea crab and groundfish fisheries, most vessels donated $5,000 to $10,000, with Unisea, owned by Nippon Suisan of Japan, matching those efforts. Other processors, including American Seafoods and Glacier Seafoods also matched fishermen’s efforts.

Vinsel said the strong industry response was indicative of the fishermen’s mentality. They compete at sea, but will drop everything to help one another out when necessary, Vinsel said.

AFIRM was founded in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina to support fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The group supplied fishermen with a lift to get boats back in the water near Plaquemines Parish, La., icemaking equipment for fishermen near Biloxi, La., and other aid.

After relief efforts for the hurricane wound down, the group knew it might be needed again.

“We didn’t close the organization down,” Cotter said.

They opted to maintain a minimal bank account so work could ramp up when needed.

“We do think it’s important for the Alaska fishing community to be prepared to help others,” Vinsel said.

Vinsel said the thanks the fishermen have sent Alaskans are very powerful.

A sign the lifejacket recipients held said something along the lines of, “We will succeed with feeling of thanks as power,” Vinsel said. “It’s very poignant that they feel such strong thanks.”

Vinsel said they’re still hearing the results of AFIRM’s contributions in Japan. Most of the money has been sent to the selected groups, and reports of the fishermen returning to sea are rippling back to AFIRM.

“They’ve received the help,” Vinsel said.

One project is still pending.

Cotter said AFIRM has designated $30,000 for rebuilding the Iwaki Fish Market. The group is waiting to for the Iwaki Fishermen’s Organization, Hisanohama Branch, to raise the rest of the funds for that project.


Molly Dischner can be reached at

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robert white
robert white 12/04/12 - 07:02 am

Should have used that money to clean up their mess on our shores.. Let their own government take care of their own people for a problem they created by shotty maintenance!

Sam Von Pufendorf
Sam Von Pufendorf 12/04/12 - 11:09 am
A problem THEY created?

Really Bob? They could have done more to stop several 70 foot tsunami's created by the largest earthquake to ever hit their country? They should have done more to protect their nuclear power plants? Maybe they shouldn't have built them so close to an earthquake zone! Who would do anything that stupid? The US has five in immediate earthquake prone areas.(*) Maybe they should have shorn up that fault!
Last night should serve as a reminder that we too live in an earthquake zone. We too may depend on the support of other nations to pull ourselves up ("do unto others as you'd have them do unto you").
I imagine this is where you provide the argument; "whoever helps us out in our times of need? Where was everyone after 9/11, Katrina, the gulf coast spill and Sandy?" They were there. It's simply that they don't make as big of splash about it as we do. Do they give as much? Nope! They can't! They don't have the economies to match ours. But by GDP, they contribute equally. But some of those offers of help may surprise you (Cuba, Venezuala, Pakistan and Bangladesh). For Katrina a total of $850 million was pledged by foreign governments. (**)
Your sense of humanity, human suffering and compassion is heart wrenching. May you never find yourself in such circumstances. Merry Christmas Bob! The holiday is to remind us of the hope of peace on earth and goodwill toward man.


robert white
robert white 12/04/12 - 05:29 pm

I'm sorry I feel this way, my sense of humanity, human suffering and compassion is not there after what they did on the Bataan death march, particularly how they enjoyed butchering Americans!! Merry Christmas Sam.

Sam Von Pufendorf
Sam Von Pufendorf 12/04/12 - 06:09 pm
Interesting Bob

I am sorry you feel this was as well. Can you imagine how many of our own countrymen must hate us. The Indians MUST hate for using germ warfare, slavery and attempting genocide on them and for the hundreds of broken promises made to them. The blacks MUST hate us for stealing them away from their native land and imprisoning them in slavery for 400 years, the Irish, Italians and the Chinese all have grudges they could hold, but most don't.
So tell me, how many living survivors or Bataan do you know? Hate and intolerance should not be inherited by one generation from another. Just as we as "Americans" had nothing to do with the above listed atrocities, there are few survivors of either side from the Bataan death march since it happened over 70 years ago. Holding hate for a generation that did not yet exist is indicative of narrow minded and blind hatred weighing right or wrong based on insecure prejudices.
While you're hating: Hate the Germans for murdering 6 million + Jews, 1.2 million fellow Germans, 125,000 Americans, 280,000 Brits, 410,000 French and many more in their death camps.
Two uncles MIA WWll, One brother KIA Vietnam. The past is the past! Again to you Bob Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth! Let your hate go son, before it consumes you! Merry Christmas Bob... may you be able to find the good in others rather than the bad of their past.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 12/04/12 - 07:21 pm
Blood sacrifices all

History shows that Billions of our fellow humans from every race, tribe and ethnic group have been slaughtered needlessly by other humans.
The killings of fellow humans is a sacrifice of blood thats provoked against others & inables the wicked to continue and gain strength in it's desire to kill all of us humans. Look at history past and see that every war or religious act has been to kill others and promote some sort of self worship or justification for acts done. It's like abortions of 6500 babies a day here in America and we wonder why we are declining as a society which use to worship God who provided his own blood sacrifice?
Hate cannot be given up by anyones own free accord, it must be removed by some form of sacrifice and belief in God, or there will never be true freedom or acceptance or forgiveness for anyone for any supposed reasons we hold against them. The bad must be replaced with good, and that good can only come from God, not of ourselves for any lasting period. Sure we can try to be good and forgive others, but until we actually are forgiven and believe that we are we can only go in circles, repeating our past and never growing in a healthy life or productive way to help others, period.
Sure we can BS ourselves into a sence of false security of good, but the truth always comes out and we will eventually realize our error and be right back where we started and even worse off, becoming even more hopeless due to self rightiousness acts, instead of belief in the rightious act of Gods son. It's a visious circle of life, but we can get off that merry-go-round if only we give up on self and accept Gods way of forgiveness, the only way, the only truth and the only life. I know, as i have fought this fight for many years and still have times of relapse when i want things my way, instead of his way.
Love thy neighbor as thy self and that comes only after you love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind. The only two commands that really matter. Do Good when and where we can, but at the same time be very wise in doing so i do believe.

Sam Von Pufendorf
Sam Von Pufendorf 12/04/12 - 08:10 pm

Plenty of good, loving and forgiving non-christians out there Jerry. Once we get past the commercial aspect of this holiday season, we may find that this is the very time of year to help one and another since we are unable to do it on a year round basis. We're to consumed with ourselves and couldn't care any less for those who find themselves in unimaginable circumstances.
The Japanese of this generation have not been at war with anyone and have contributed to world civilization. Any animosity towards them is based on learned prejudices from 70 year old history.
As for history; it's not definitive and unlike mathematics, physics, biology or even language, it has no rules in its interpretation. It is simply a view point put forward with the words of witnesses. Please tell me you have never embellished on anything in your past. If you can do that, you have proven my point!
To serve as a post to this story, one line from a Christmas jingle: "be good for goodness sake!"
I am a Christian, but sometimes it's easy to see how organized religion breeds more hate than it does love.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 12/05/12 - 01:04 pm
No differances is what we should see.

I have hated and can still relapse into this when i allow my self to hate the person instead of the sins. There is neither male, nor female, bond, nor free, Jew, nor Greek, but we are all one in Christ, which means no differances between people that are christians.We should desire this mind set for every one and that was Dr ML Kings Dream, that we would all realize the Freedom to love and accept others because we have been accepted. If i rely on my ability to love others i sometimes revert back to the point of Old self & wanting to stomp them into a mud pie, kind of like chickens do to others, and get on with life with no thoughts of what i did as being wrong.
Thank God that has been removed from me as i continue to restrict this desire from my self will of wanting things my way, not eazy, but doable.
And yes, organized religion does promote hate and distruction and thats why God also hates religions of men and why Satan promotes them. When the truth is procalimed, then the false will also make it's claims and thus religions of men are formed and promoted in the fight for souls.
As i said before why do we have to remember those that are hurting at this time of the year? Whats really so special about the winter Solstice in December any how? Why can't we help people in September on one of the 3 Fall Feasts of God when Christ was probably born, rather than this false feast of men on Dec 25? Why continue the lies of this time of year when the truth of the season is readly available to all that would learn the truth?
I try to always be willing and ready to help others when a need arises no matter what race, color or creed they might be and even religion usually is not a priority when i help my neighbors how ever i can. Not even if they are a Democrate matters, union or nonunion, because i am helping them out of love for my God and his commands to love my neighbors as myself. It's hard to love others when you hate or dislike your self, is it not? It's just that i forget this sometimes when on this site even though i am getting better at not taking the bait of those that Troll to spread hate and discord.
Yes your right, there are alot of giving people out there that do good for others for what reason, God only knows and i think it's done as a supposed means of acceptance for good works with out redemption or forgiveness and they think that they are good to go for these good works, but they are not.
My works are because of my redemption, not for my redemption and there in lies the differances between people.
I use to do many good things out of self gratification and thats all i got was self willed good that was not lasting at all, that is until i learned the differance of giving for self, from giving of self out of love for others a love that i could never obtain my self until i realized how much love had been given unto me by the one that gave of himself and gave all he had, even his life.
If you want to help others this time of year then AIG/Country Foods has hams on sale for $25.00 and you get a free 10-12 lb turkey, bacon and eggs as well when you buy a ham. So go spend some money and bless others with a good meal for next to nothing, in fact buy 10-20 hams and bless that many more at the Senior Centers or Salvation Army, as they give to the needy, not the greedy.
Do Good always in the spirit of Godliness because of what has been done for you, that is if it has been Freely accepted by you, might be a better way of stating it.
Be Blessed!

Seafarer 12/08/12 - 03:24 pm
Great Story!

What a wonderful story! Just look at how many folks were helped! Domi arigato!

soleilchien 12/14/12 - 12:00 pm
Good job, Ms. Dischner

Thank you, Molly for your article. I enjoy reading your work and appreciate your educational articles.

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