Fishermen in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan’s fifth-largest seafood producer, halted operations after tainted fish were detected south of Fukushima, where radioactive water from a stricken nuclear plant contaminated the sea.
About 96 percent of fishing off the coast of Ibaraki was suspended after sand lance contaminated with higher-than- acceptable levels of cesium were discovered yesterday, said Tomoki Mashiko, assistant director at the fishing policy division of the prefectural government. Fishing in Ibaraki had been suspended since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, restarted as early as March 28, and then suspended again today.
Sushi restaurants and hotels, including Shangri-La Asia’s luxury chain, dropped Japanese seafood from their menus because of radiation fears. Japan exported 565,295 metric tons of marine products worth 195 billion yen ($2.3 billion) last year. A fishing industry group in Fukushima asked Tokyo Electric Power Co. to stop dumping toxic water into the sea as the operator of the damaged nuclear plant struggles to stem radiation leakage.
“The action may be undermining the whole fishing industry in Japan,” Ikuhiro Hattori, chairman for the National Federation of Fisheries Co-Operative Associations, told a vice trade minister today, referring to Tepco dumping water.
The detection of tainted sand lance dealt a blow to Ibaraki fishermen who were recovering from the natural disaster and were resuming operations, Mashiko said. The prefecture produced 191,010 tons of fish worth 20 billion yen ($234 million) in 2008, representing 3.4 percent of Japan’s output, government data show.
Fishermen from Ibaraki’s southern port of Hasaki weren’t allowed to ship their products to a market in neighboring Chiba prefecture, 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,” Mashiko said in an interview today. The prefecture will increase monitoring of marine products for radioactivity and decide which area and what type of fish are safe for commercial operations, he said.
Japan has restricted vegetable and raw-milk shipments from Fukushima and nearby prefectures after discovering contaminated products through random testing.
Tepco, owner of the nuclear plant hit by Japan’s biggest quake on record, slumped as much as 19 percent to a record low today. The utility may make a preliminary compensation payment of 1 million yen ($12,000) to each household near its crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, Kyodo News reported.
The cesium level detected in samples of sand lance caught off the coast of Ibaraki was 526 becquerel per kilogram, higher than Japan’s health ministry standard of 500 becquerel, data from the prefecture showed yesterday.
Testing of sand-lance samples from fishermen’s group in the northern town of Hirakata also showed they contained 4,080 becquerel per kilogram of iodine-131. The government set a radioactive iodine standard for fish at 2,000 becquerel per kilogram yesterday, the same as the limit for vegetables.
“Increased discovery of contaminated foods sapped consumer appetite for products made in Fukushima and surrounding areas,” said Takaki Shigemoto, commodity analyst at JSC Corp. in Tokyo. “Demand is shifting to foods from western Japan and overseas.”
India suspended import of food items from Japan for three months or until “credible information” on the radiation hazard is available, the health ministry said yesterday.
Exports of Japanese seafood were canceled by foreign buyers on concern the products may have been tainted by radiation leaking from the nuclear plant, Hiromi Isa, trade office director at Japan’s Fisheries Agency, said last week.
Japan’s total output of marine products reached 5.43 million tons in 2009. Fishing by Fukushima and nearby Miyagi prefectures remain suspended as they have not recovered from damage caused by the quake and tsunami, according to the agency.
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