Tsunami rebuilding progresses, Fukushima seafood ‘really safe’

New data from the Japanese government show steady recovery of seafood production and processing facilities in the areas hardest hit by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, but it may be harder to rebuild public confidence in the region’s seafood products.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency issued a report in September covering recovery and reconstruction in the three prefectures that suffered the most tsunami damage: Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.

The report, titled The Impact on Fisheries Caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake—Situation of Recovery and Reconstruction of Fisheries, showed good progress in rubble removal, reconstruction of ports, replacement of vessels and rebuilding of fish distribution facilities.

Aquaculture is also steadily rebuilding, with 84 percent of seafood distribution facilities recovered. But while all fish processing facilities have been restored in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, only one, representing just 8 percent of the previous number, is now operational in Fukushima. The Agency cites “no demand” as the reason.

In an interview with the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives, based in Iwaki City, a staff member said that all processing is being done at just one facility in Iwaki City, but not all of the prefecture’s processing facilities were damaged. Those on the coast were damaged while those in inland areas were not. Next year, an additional processing plant in an inland area of Minami-Soma City is expected to re-open. That facility did not suffer tsunami damage.

The Fisheries Agency report showed that by the end of February of this year, landings in the three prefectures had recovered to 80 percent by weight of the level of the 12-month period (to the end of February 2011) preceding the disaster, and to 87 percent by value. This is up from 71 and 82 percent respectively a year ago, and from 62 and 70 percent two years earlier.

However, results varied significantly among the three prefectures. Landings in Iwate Prefecture reached nearly 116,000 metric tons(MT) (83 percent recovery) and that of Miyagi Prefecture approached 249,000 MT (80 percent recovery). Fukushima Prefecture, meanwhile, landed only 52,000 MT (a mere 48 percent recovery), reflecting continuing restrictions on fishing and poor consumer acceptance. By value, likewise, Fukushima had only recovered to 32 percent of the pre-quake level, while Miyagi and Iwate reached 86 and 94 percent, respectively.

Data regarding radiation shows positive progress too. A separate report, Monitoring Results for Marine Fishery Products in Fukushima, shows that the percentage of samples exceeding the government-set limit of 100 Becquerels(Bq) per kilogram has declined from 57.7 percent in the period April-June 2011 to less than 1 percent in April-June 2014, and finally to zero in April-June of 2015.

The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives staff member said, “The national radioactivity limit is under 100Bq, but the 64 [species of] samples cannot be put on the market if these sample's radioactivity is over 50Bq. So, the Fukushima seafood on the market is really safe.”

Species for which distribution is still suspended are stone flounder, ocellate spot skate, rockfish, Japanese black porgy and seabass, according to another Fisheries Agency report (The Leakage of Contaminated Water at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and the Safety of Fishery Products).

The co-operative holds cooking classes in Fukushima Prefecture during which a cooperative member talks about fish after the nuclear problem. They also sponsor promotional events in Tokyo and Fukushima during which they conduct a survey.

“The people who took the cooking class said that they will buy Fukushima seafood, but I think some people who do not know the safety of Fukushima fish in other prefectures cannot understand,” said the staff member.

The Fisheries Agency recovery report shows that of 319 damaged ports in the three prefectures, loading and unloading functions were completely recovered at 213 (67 percent) and partially recovered at a further 94 ports (29 percent) by the end of June this year. Fukushima Prefecture’s website, showing progress of reconstruction activities as of September 2015, shows that 87 percent of damaged fishing ports in the prefecture were planned to be rebuilt and this work is 56 percent complete.

While 29,000 fishing boats were operating in the area prior to the disaster, the national government considered there was vessel overcapacity and set a recovery goal of 20,000. As of the end of July, 18,085 vessels had been registered—90 percent of the target.

By product category, wakame and konbu seaweed production recovered to 88 percent and 61 percent of the pre-disaster year, but then fell back, most recently to 75 and 50 percent respectively, as rough seas caused the seaweed to fall off of the nets on which it is grown. Oysters, which take three years from seeding to harvest, rebounded to 53 percent of their former level, while scallops reached 79 percent. Silver salmon farming has recovered to 83 percent of the pre-tsunami level.

Clearance of rubble and debris from fishing grounds and aquaculture areas is 95 and 98 percent complete, respectively.


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