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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fisheries hit by safety fears


STAFF WRITER

The nuclear crisis has spread fear among people all over the world, but fishermen in areas around the Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant say the perception of danger is unfairly affecting their livelihoods.

Although few of their catches are contaminated with radioactive materials beyond allowable limits, buyers and consumers have refused to buy, knocking down the market prices of seafood.

"How long should we wait until the situation gets better? For days? For months?" asked Tetsuro Tsuchida, head of Kujukuri Makiami Fisheries Cooperative.

"Sardines usually sell for ¥40 per kilo. But now the price is down to about ¥15 to ¥20," Tsuchida said.

"I want to know if we're going to be compensated for the loss. If so, who will do it? The prefectural, or central government?" he asked.

Highly radioactive water from the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant flowed into the sea until April 6. The operator also intentionally dumped about 10,000 tons of low-level radioactive water into the Pacific to empty tanks to hold far more toxic water from the crippled reactor buildings.

On April 4, radioactive cesium and iodine higher than the allowable standards was found in "konago" sand lance caught off Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture, sparking fears of radioactive contamination of fish.

However, these samples are the only ones found to be beyond acceptable contamination limits so far.

The Chiba Prefectural Government is regularly checking 13 kinds of fish, seaweed and shellfish, while the fishery agency is checking 21 kinds of seafood from Ibaraki. All except konago have been determined safe to eat, authorities said.

Fishermen in Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures, however, have seen the prices for their catches drop precipitously.

Hideo Hatanaka, head of Onjuku Iwawada Fisheries Cooperative in Chiba Prefecture, confirmed that prices are going down.

Radioactive iodine has not been detected in either "katsuo" bonito or "kinme-dai" splendid alfonsino. Although small amounts of radioactive cesium turned up in bonito, it was far below the threshold and won't pose any health threat to humans, according to Chiba Prefecture.

But the price of "kinme-dai" snapper, for example, has plunged recently to about ¥1,200 per 1 kg from ¥2,200, according to Hatanaka.

While the cooperative does not plan to cease fishing, they have decided the fishing boats should return to port three hours earlier than usual because of the drop in sales.

"We strongly hope the situation (at the nuclear plant) gets better as soon as possible," he said.

"Fishing is the source of our income. In recent years, the price of oil has gone up and has cost us more to go fishing. Now we have the contamination issue and it's tough," he said, adding he hopes consumers will buy and eat fish.

Fishermen with 11 major cooperatives have been forced to stop fishing off Ibaraki Prefecture for the time being because buyers are reluctant even to purchase fish containing radioactive cesium and iodine below allowable limits.

Tsuchida of the Kujukuri Makiami co-op also said fishermen from his cooperative stopped fishing for sardines from April 6 to 10, and have since decided to fish only three days a week because most buyers have been avoiding their catches.

Meanwhile, other Kanto prefectures, including Tokyo and Kanagawa, also have begun checks for radioactive iodine and cesium in their seafood.

Experts say the sea contamination around Fukushima is not that serious so far and consumers don't need to worry for now, as local fishermen claim.

But some experts also have been urging the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to expand the areas and types of marine life species to monitor for radioactive substances.

"We can only learn if seafood is safe when it is monitored and proved safe," said Kunikazu Noguchi, a lecturer specializing in radiation safety at the Dentistry Department of Nihon University.

Because sand lances off Kitaibaraki caught on April 4 contained radioactive substances, Noguchi said marine life south of Kitaibaraki should also be checked. Marine life should be monitored more regularly and the findings updated promptly, he added.

Tepco announced on Friday that it will outsource the analysis of contaminated water in the basements of units 1 to 4 of the Fukushima No. 1 plant for radioactive substances other than iodine and cesium.

"The government and Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency should not just tell the public seafood is safe because radioactive substances are diluted in seawater," he said, adding such an explanation was insufficient to prove safety.

"Tepco is also calling the radiation of contaminated water dumped into the sea 'lower level' - but it's still contaminated," he said. "They should disclose data on all detected radioactive substances, not just iodine and cesium."

The strontium-90 in the seawater must be watched, he said.



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