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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Fishing still plagued by nuclear disaster

March 11, 2016

Catch limits, safety worries take toll on Fukushima fishery



Staff writer

IWAKI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. — Over the past five years, fishermen in the disaster-struck regions of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures have revived their industry, steadily increasing the catch and shipment of oysters, seaweed and other local specialties.

But for the fishing industry in Fukushima Prefecture, the turnaround has been slow, and plagued by the impact of the nuclear disaster that caused massive amounts of radioactive water to flow to the Pacific Ocean.

“I think we are making some progress. The fishermen couldn’t fish for more than a year (after 3/11),” said Yoshihisa Komatsu, deputy director of administration at the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations. But the speed of the progress “is slow, as it’s been already five years,” he said.

Recovery for Fukushima’s fishing industry has come in small steps. After March 11, 2011, fishermen voluntarily stopped fishing. They resumed in June 2012, although only on a trial basis, and the government slapped an outright ban on the sale of certain species deemed likely to be radioactive.

The blacklist affected more than 35 types of fish caught off the Fukushima coast, which was famous for flounder, angler fish and rockfish.

Under the trial, fishing boats were allowed to catch a small amount of other species but were required to check their radiation levels. If the fish were found to be uncontaminated, they were shipped off to market.

The goal is to see the reaction of consumers, who have largely avoided eating fish from the prefecture due to radiation worries.

The catch has significantly gone down in Fukushima, with only about 5,600 tons of fish caught in 2015, down from about 38,600 tons before 3/11.

To increase the catch, Komatsu said it was essential to lift the shipping ban.

“We can make the first step (toward full recovery) once the ban is lifted from all fish,” said Komatsu.

While the sales ban on several species has been lifted, 28 kinds of fish remain on the list.

Trial fishing, meanwhile, has been expanded from three species to 72.

In addition, radiation-contaminated fish have drastically decreased.

According to the prefecture, about 50 percent of the fish samples tested for radiation levels exceeded the government-designated maximum of 100 becquerels per kilogram right after the nuclear disaster started in 2011. But after April 2015, no fish has exceeded that limit.

As a result, the Fukushima fisheries cooperative federation is now looking to expand the permissible fishing area closer to the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Currently, fishermen can only fish outside of a 20-km radius of the plant. They want to expand this to a 10-km radius after Tokyo Electric Power Co. last October completed a sea wall that blocks contaminated groundwater from reaching the Pacific. Since then, the level of contamination near the plant has decreased.

While many take this as a positive sign toward recovery, concerns remain.

“If some fish show high levels of contamination, it could hurt efforts to fight the harmful rumors” about the safety of products from the area, Komatsu said.

Fukushima has suffered from a tainted image due to the Fukushima nuclear plant calamity, affecting everything from farm to marine products — something the prefecture has constantly been fighting.

“The harmful rumors need to end to some degree before the trial fishing ends and full-scale fishing resumes,” said Hiromitsu Endo, who represents distributor in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

Currently, his association of 28 distributors sell fish caught under the trial to the market.

But once fishing returns to full scale, the association will be disbanded, with each firm left on their own to sell their catch to customers. If the bad image remains, they fear they will have a hard time.

“It will be too late to start fighting the harmful rumors then,” Endo said.

Even five years after the disaster started, the harmful rumors persist, he said.

Although Fukushima Prefecture monitors radiation levels of fish, shipping only products that are not contaminated, distributors said some stores were reluctant to market the products because they didn’t sell well.

To wipe out the bad image, Komatsu of Fukushima fisheries cooperative said the industry needed to keep proving through trial fishing that the fish being sold was safe.

“The harmful rumors need to end to some degree before the trial fishing ends and full-scale fishing resumes.”

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