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Fukushima radiation kills fishing industry


Posted June 25, 2012 15:16:00

Fishermen in the Fukushima area, the site of the greatest single radiation contamination of the ocean in history, fear their industry is ruined. While boats still go to sea, their catches are being withheld from sale and instead the fish is sent for analysis. And it's not just Japanese fishermen recording radioactive hauls. Contamination is turning up thousands of kilometres away in fish caught on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Mark Willacy

TONY EASTLEY: The fallout continues from the Fukushima disaster in Japan and it's threatening the nation's huge fishing industry and beyond.
トニー: 日本の福島からの降下物は続いています。そして日本の大規模な漁業、それ以上の産業を脅かしています。

The greatest single radioactive contamination of the ocean in history has some frightening consequences. A lot of Japan's catch is withheld from sale and instead examined by scientists.

And contamination is even turning up thousands of kilometres away.

North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy:
北アジア特派員、マーク Willacyのレポートです。


(Sound of fishing boat engine)~釣り船のエンジンの音

MARK WILLACY: It's 4am and Akira Kaya leaves the safety of port, steering his fishing boat east towards the blood red of the dawn horizon.
マーク: 朝4時です。カヤ・アキラさんは港を出て、真っ赤な朝焼けの地平線に向けて、東へと船の舵を切ります。


For decades the Fukushima fisherman earned his living from the sea, but then came the tsunami and the nuclear meltdowns it triggered just up the coast.

(Sound of Akira Kaya speaking)~カヤ・アキラさんの話す声

"Of course I am angry with the nuclear plant operator TEPCO," Akira Kaya tells me. "It's because I am a fisherman and I've lost all my income, everything," he says.


As Akira Kaya lowers his trawling nets he explains how he used to haul in magnificent catches of octopus, horse mackerel and flatfish.
カヤさんは、トロール網をなげながら、かつてタコ、真鰺 、カレイがどんなに大漁だったかを説明します。

(Sound of fish haul pulled onto boat deck)~ボートに引き揚げられる漁獲物の音

And today again a decent catch spills from his nets onto the deck. But none of these fish will ever make it to market.

Here, just 20 kilometres out to sea from the shattered remains of the Fukushima nuclear plant, nothing can be sold to the public.

(Sound of Akira Kaya speaking)~カヤ・アキラさんの話す声

"These fish are samples to be sent for testing to measure radiation contamination," Akira Kaya says.

Radioactive contamination isn't just a problem for Fukushima. Last month 15 bluefin tuna were caught off the coast of San Diego in the western United States.

They were found to contain albeit low levels of radioactive caesium 134 and 137. The latter has a half life of 30 years.


But in the waters of Fukushima some of the fish have been found to be dangerously contaminated.

(Sound of Takashi Niitsuma speaking)~ニイツマ・タカシさんの話す声

"Last week the boats went 40 kilometres out from the nuclear plant for sample fishing," says fishing co-operative spokesman Takashi Niitsuma. "Just under a third of the fish were above the contamination safety level," he tells me.


Back from his foray to within 20 kilometres of the nuclear pant Akira Kaya unloads his catch. But he won't see a single yen from it.

(Sound of Akira Kaya speaking)~カヤ・アイラさんの話す声

"I think it's impossible for Fukushima's fishing industry to recover in my lifetime," he tells me. "Even if we do get back on our feet, who's going to buy our fish?" he asks with a shrug.

A few days after our expedition off Fukushima the results of our haul came in - about a quarter of the catch has radiation levels exceeding the safe limit, with one fish 16 times over the limit, more bad news for Akira Kaya and his fellow Fukushima fisherman.
福島沖への数日の遠征の後、私たちの漁獲の結果が届きました。- 約1/4が安全限界を超えていました。そのうちの1つは、限界値の16倍でした。カヤさんとその仲間にとって更に悪い知らせでした。

This is Mark Willacy in Fukushima for AM.


Fears Accompany Fishermen in Japanese Disaster Region


Published: June 25, 2012

SOMA, Japan — The catch from six small fishing boats, the first to resume commercial fishing in the waters off Fukushima since last year’s nuclear catastrophe, went on sale at local supermarkets on Monday, raising hopes and concerns in a region struggling to return to something like normal.

For now, the catch is limited to octopus and whelk, a type of sea snail, because those species are thought to trap fewer radioactive particles in their bodies. Still, local residents said it was a milestone for a vital source of food and employment in the region.


“The past year has been long and hard, but the thing is, I never once gave up on being a fisherman,” Toru Takahashi, 57, said before sailing early Saturday from Matsukawa, about 30 miles north of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But the fishermen’s hope to resume working the waters they fished for decades is causing unease all around. Experts say the effects of the disaster on the ocean are still not fully understood.


Hours before the boats set out, the central government hastily banned Fukushima’s fishermen from selling 36 types of fish other than octopus and whelk. Until then, there had been no explicit ban on fishing near Fukushima, because the region’s fishermen had voluntarily suspended work after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. In return, they have received about $125 million from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power.

“We are not opposed to fishermen in Fukushima starting to fish again, if they can show that what they are catching does not contain high levels of radiation,” said Yasunobu Matsui, a government food safety official. “We just don’t want them to make a mistake and catch the wrong kind.”

Japan is still grappling with the effects of the meltdowns and other problems at the plant, which led to the largest accidental release of radioactive material into the sea on record. Levels of radioactive cesium off the coast peaked at more than 100,000 becquerels per cubic meter in early April — about 100 times higher than the peak levels detected in the Black Sea after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, according to a study led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

What that means for sea life is far from clear, Mr. Matsui said. Away from the immediate area of the plant, the radiation is too diffuse to pose an immediate risk to human health, but experts worry that radioactive material will accumulate in the marine food chain.

Radiation levels in some fish exceed the government’s safety limits of 100 becquerels a kilogram, including one bottom-dwelling poacher fish that registered 690 becquerels a kilogram in April. But other sea produce show negligible radiation readings, including octopus and sea snails caught by fishermen from Soma.


“Given that Japan has the highest seafood consumption rate in the world, understanding concentrations and assimilation in marine biota is an important task,” Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist who led the Woods Hole study, wrote in the journal Environmental Science and Technology last fall.


Fishermen in Fukushima are desperate to get back to work. Mr. Takahashi, the fisherman, who lost his old trawler to the tsunami, said he worked all year to obtain another, the Myojinmaru.

On Saturday, those sailing the Myojinmaru and five other boats chose a spot about 30 miles offshore where radioactivity was thought to be adequately diluted. They returned 15 hours later to deliver buckets of octopus and sea snails to a Soma fish market still largely in ruins, with much of its roof gone, carried away by the tsunami. Tests found no radioactivity in their catch.



Fusayuki Nambu, who heads the local Soma-Futaba fishing cooperative, said another run was planned for Wednesday, and after that, officials would draw up more detailed fishing plans.

“We’re still fearful, because we do not have any guarantee that anyone will ever buy fish from Fukushima again,” he said. “But we can’t stay idle forever.”

It is unclear whether a public that is jittery about radiation generally will trust fish caught off Fukushima. Many Japanese are wary of the government’s assurances about test results, and Tokyo Electric has made people more suspicious by refusing to let independent experts survey waters inside the roughly 12-mile exclusion zone around the plant.


“I don’t think anyone now would lie about radiation levels, but in the end, it’s the consumer who will decide,” said Yoshiaki Saito, a wholesaler who handles tuna, crab and other seafood at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. If nothing else, fish caught near Fukushima would probably fetch far lower prices, he said.

Even in Soma, where shoppers are sympathetic to the plight of the city’s fishermen, many will not allow their children or grandchildren to eat local seafood.

“I’d eat anything they catch, but for Minami, it’s a different story,” said Yasuo Yoshizawa, 63, referring to his 8-year-old granddaughter. “I do want to see the fishing industry revive, but our children’s health is the most important.”

Contaminated water still escapes from the nuclear plant — about 12 tons of water containing radioactive strontium leaked in April, Tokyo Electric said — and rain that falls on the area washes radioactive cesium into local rivers that empty into the sea. Traces of the cesium have been found in at least one wide-ranging ocean species, Pacific bluefin tuna, the study said.

“The bottom line is that it’s too early to tell how much the sea, or sea life, has been contaminated,” said Yosuke Yamashiki, associate professor of environmental engineering at Kyoto University. “And the event is not over. Radioactive substances could enter the ocean for some time, perhaps even years.”

For Fukushima’s fishing industry, the nuclear disaster has hastened a long decline, and some fishermen say they dare not resume work until more species show low radiation levels closer to shore.

“Of course, we are desperate to start fishing again,” said Kazunori Yoshida of the fishing cooperative in Iwaki, south of the plant. “But it’s not safe.”

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo.










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