Japan's fifth-largest seafood producer, Ibaraki prefecture, has halted fishing operations after tainted fish were discovered south of the catastrophic Daiichi nuclear facility near Fukushima, where radioactive water is being dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
Higher-than-allowable levels of cesium were discovered in sand lance on Tuesday, and as a result, about 96 percent of fishing off the Ibaraki coast has been suspended, said Tomoki Mashiko, assistant director of the prefectural government’s fishing policy division, according to Bloomberg.
Fishing in the prefecture had previously been suspended since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and was resumed on March 28. It is now suspended again.
As reported earlier by Bloomberg, a few sushi restaurants in the US had already dropped Japanese seafood from their menus over growing radiation fears. Tuesday’s announcement puts additional pressure on the country’s fishing export industry. Last year, Japan exported 565,295 metric tons of marine products with an estimated value of $2.3 billion.
The National Federation of Fisheries Co-Operative Associations (NFFCA) has sent a letter to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), asking the Daiichi plant operator to cease the dumping of toxic water into the ocean.
“The action may be undermining the whole fishing industry in Japan, said Ikuhiro Hattori, chairman of the group, according to Bloomberg.
TEPCO has acknowledged receipt of the letter, suggesting NFFCA be understanding about the toxic water dump:
With regard to the compensations related to the water discharge and other issues, we will follow the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damages and sincerely address them with support from the government. We would highly appreciate it if NFFCA could understand the above.
In 2008, Ibaraki prefecture produced 191,010 tons of fish valued at $234 million. This week’s suspension of fishing operations is a major blow to the region’s economy, already compounded by the earlier earthquake and tsunami.
In an interview on Wednesday, Mashiko said: “We expect Tokyo Electric to treat fishermen in the same way as it prepares to compensate farmers for their lost sales because of radioactive contamination,” Bloomberg notes.
The suspension of fishing in Ibaraki prefecture adds to Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures suspensions, still dealing with damages from the the earthquake and tsunami.
Radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean 330 meters from the Daiichi plant reached unprecedented levels earlier this week, with radioactive iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 all a million times over the permissible amount.
India has instituted a three-month suspension on Japanese food imports, its health ministry said on Tuesday. The news of tainted fish in the Pacific could lead to additional suspensions from other countries as news over the nuclear disaster continues emerging.
Kyodo News reports on Wednesday the Japanese government is considering tapping into TEPCO’s reserves for compensation caused by the nuclear crisis. Around $11.7 billion USD (1 trillion yen) is being eyed by the government from funds the plant operator is required to set aside in covering costs associated with disposing of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.
Japan’s government is searching for additional means to fund damage compensation, as it is feared TEPCO alone cannot handle those costs.