Despite China’s ban on seafood from Fukushima due to concerns about wastewater, Japanese consumers are increasing their consumption of locally sourced fish.

The local fishing communities in IWAKI, Japan were concerned about the potential consequences of the Fukushima nuclear power plant releasing treated radioactive wastewater into the ocean.

Despite concerns for the future of water release, consumers from all over the country have shown their support for the region by increasing their consumption of fish. This has not only helped boost a struggling industry, but also lessened the impact of China’s ban on Japanese seafood.

“I have not yet heard any safety concerns raised about the release of treated water. I would say there are none,” stated Kazuto Harada, an employee at the Marufuto Fish Store near Onahama Port in Fukushima. He stood by a tank of lobsters caught in the nearby area and expressed, “I am both surprised and relieved.”

People all over the country are making purchases, with a lot of them requesting “Joban-mono,” which refers to seafood caught in the waters near Fukushima and Ibaraki. This includes popular local fish like flounder and greeneye.

Most of the day’s fresh local catch is sold out by late afternoon.

Tokyo local Sumie Nouchi stopped by the Lalamew seafood market after a round of golf with friends in the vicinity. She expressed, “I made a point to swing by and grab some fish on my way back home.” Her selection included rosy seabass, greeneye, squid, and octopus.

She states that her support for local businesses is more due to the delicious taste of Joban-mono, rather than a concern for treated water discharge. She reassures that she regularly checks the sampling results and has confidence in them.

On August 24, authorities began discharging treated and diluted radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean. This was deemed necessary due to the excessive amount of over 1.3 million tons of radioactive water that has been stored in approximately 1,000 tanks at the plant since the cooling system was damaged by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Despite the discharge of wastewater, the tanks are projected to reach maximum capacity by mid-2024. Additional space will be required at the facility for decommissioning, a process that could span several decades, if it is even completed.

Prior to its release, the water undergoes treatment to decrease the levels of radioactive materials to a safe amount. Afterwards, it is mixed with a large volume of seawater to ensure its safety surpasses international standards.

The ongoing release, estimated to last for many years, faced strong resistance from fishing organizations and neighboring nations such as South Korea. This sparked protests from hundreds of citizens. As a result, Beijing swiftly prohibited the import of seafood from Japan. This had a significant impact on Japanese seafood industries, particularly those in northern Japan that focus on scallops and sea cucumbers, which are in high demand in China.

The prohibition on Chinese seafood and the resulting effects on the Japanese fishing sector may have lessened Japanese disapproval of the water release and prompted individuals to consume more seafood from the area.

“Before the discharge began, we were worried that consumers may stay away from Fukushima fish, but we saw a significant increase of our customers asking for Fukushima fish,” said Futoshi Kinoshita, executive of Foodison, which operates the Sakana Bacca chain. “After China’s ban on Japanese seafood, we are seeing more customers buying not only Fukushima fish but also Japanese seafood in general to support the industry.”

According to him, having data from fish testing is crucial in assuring consumers of the safety of seafood. However, relying solely on data is insufficient. He believes that those who are worried about Fukushima fish can gain confidence by observing their friends or family members consuming it without hesitation. He also hopes that this sense of confidence will spread among others.

In a report released in July, the International Atomic Energy Agency determined that the planned discharge would have minimal impact on the environment and human health. The IAEA’s safety and sampling teams, which visited Fukushima during the discharge, reported that it was progressing smoothly thus far.

On Thursday, the Fukushima plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, started releasing a third round of water as scheduled. They have reported that everything is going smoothly.

The Japanese government has established a support fund in order to assist in locating alternative markets and alleviating the impact of China’s ban on seafood. Strategies include buying, storing, and freezing seafood temporarily, as well as promoting its sale within Japan. Cabinet members have visited Fukushima to taste local seafood and assure its safety, while the US Embassy in Tokyo has been aiding in the search for new markets, such as military bases within Japan.

Even with the release of wastewater, the prices of auctions at fish markets in Fukushima have stayed consistent, or sometimes even higher than usual.

However, Katsuya Goto, an official from the Fukushima prefectural fisheries department, stated that the current condition remains unstable.

Goto stated that any incident involving the release of seawater and the subsequent sampling could negatively impact the perception of the fish. Therefore, it is crucial to closely monitor and ensure that everything goes according to plan. Despite the objections of local fishermen, both the government and TEPCO have initiated this process, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it is done correctly.

The support movement continues to expand, over two months since it first began.

Although individuals typically prefer ordering fish through mail or shopping at seafood markets, prefectural government cafeterias have recently begun offering Fukushima seafood for their lunch menus.

In late October, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched a subsidy campaign called “eat and cheer” that will run until the end of December. This campaign has been joined by 1,000 seafood retailers and is aimed at customers who are interested in purchasing expensive seafood, such as lobsters.

In Kyoto, a team of esteemed chefs specializing in the traditional Japanese cuisine known as “Kaiseki” will create menus featuring primarily fish from Fukushima starting in the near future. Yoshinori Tanaka, a member of the Japanese Culinary Academy and chef at Toriyone restaurant in Kyoto, stated that numerous chefs will host tasting events throughout the country in the spring and eventually offer their menus at hundreds of restaurants.

Tanaka stated that Japanese cuisine relies heavily on locally-produced agricultural and aquatic products. They emphasized the importance of ensuring the safety of released treated water in order to combat any negative perceptions. Additionally, they expressed their hopes that their project would help alleviate safety concerns held by certain individuals.

Some experts warn that efforts to boost Fukushima fish won’t last forever and the region needs to have long-term measures to revive the fisheries industry in the region while making sure to avoid any safety lapses.

The fisheries industry, tourism sector, and economy of Fukushima were greatly impacted and are currently in the process of recovering. The local fishing industry was starting to see improvements in 2021, but the government’s announcement of a water release plan has caused concern.

The current catch in Fukushima is only 20% of what it was before the disaster, as there are fewer fishermen and smaller catches.

According to Hiroharu Haga, the supervisor of Ichiyoshi, a seafood store located in the Lalamew fish market in Onahama, there has been an increase in customers since the release of treated water. Many of these customers are from outside of Fukushima, but due to a restricted supply, Haga is unable to fulfill all of their orders.

Haga expressed a desire to increase the sales of locally sourced fish.


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