Seafood Being Sold Again In Japan
June 26, 2012

Seafood Being Sold Again In Japan

Brett Smith for

The first seafood caught off the Japanese coast of Fukushima since last year´s nuclear meltdown went on sale Monday – a sign the million-dollar fishing economy is on the mend.

The first day´s offerings were limited to the only commercial sea creatures that have consistently tested negative for radioactive cesium: octopus and whelk, a type of marine snail.

Japanese fishmongers are hoping sea bass and flounder soon follow, but are aware that these fish still regularly test positive for contamination.

“I was filled with both uncertainty and hope today, but I was so happy when I found out the local supermarket had sold out by 3 p.m.," Hirofumi Konno, an official in charge of sales at the fishing cooperative in Soma city in coastal Fukushima, told Yuri Kageyama of the Associated Press (AP).

The local fishing industry has been in ruins since last year´s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters. The triple catastrophe left around 19,000 people dead or missing along Japan's northern Pacific coast and effectively ended agriculture and fishing in certain areas around the island nation.

The Fukushima fishing industry saw annual sales plunge more than 85 percent, from $138 billion the year before the disaster to $20.5 million last year, according to the Japan Times.

The seafood offered on Monday at two supermarkets in Soma were priced at 30 percent to 40 percent cheaper than before the disaster, according to the Mainichi Simbun daily newspaper. The octopus was described by customers and market workers as “crisp” and "very tasty."

It was unclear when other fish will be approved for sale as most have been testing at levels above the limit for radiation set by the government. In addition to testing for radioactive cesium, the government is testing for radioactive iodine as well, but with a half-life shorter than caesium, iodine is less of a concern. Officials say overall radiation amounts have been decreasing, but caesium takes many years to break down.

Like the fishing industry, area farms have been hard hit by last year´s disasters. Officials have determined that every grain of rice from the affected areas will be tested at harvest before it can be sold. In addition, the public image of Fukushima produce has been seriously tarnished, and concerned consumers, especially those with children, have been avoiding Fukushima-grown food.

The Japanese nuclear industry is also attempting to move on from the disasters. Last week, Japanese officials decided to restart four reactors in the nearby Fukui prefecture amid street protests and opposition by government officials. The reactors are part of a group of the 50 that were shut down last year after the meltdown.

While nobody could have predicted the disastrous events that unfolded last March, the government has been criticized for many missteps along the way. During the initial crises, many said that prominent government officials were downplaying the extent of the disaster and not properly protecting those at risk.

Earlier this month Japanese Industry Minister Yukio Edano admitted that his country ignored U.S. evidence that showed a dangerous radiation cloud spreading from Fukushima after the meltdown of the nuclear reactor.