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Fishermen and radiation

May 12, 2012
Fishermen in disaster-stricken areas say life now far tougher than last year




ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi -- Following the April 1 introduction of new safety standards that limit allowable radioactive cesium in food to less than 100 becquerels per kilogram, fishermen in many disaster-stricken areas are saying life is worse now than it was last year.

"The tsunami last March was horrible, but life now is two, three times more difficult," uttered 59-year-old Kenichi Suda, a fisherman from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, as he stood amid piles of rubble still remaining along the coast of the city over a year after the March 11, 2011, disasters. "If only there were no radiation problem," he said.

If the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant had never taken place, Suda, who is based some 100 kilometers from the damaged plant, would have been busy right now fishing for sand lance, whose peak season is in spring.

However, despite the fact that radiation screenings on the fish conducted this January showed doses below 100 becquerels per kilogram, Suda and other local fishermen belonging to a Miyagi prefectural fishery cooperative reached the decision to refrain from fishing this spring due to fears of radioactive contamination.

Suda, whose house was completely destroyed in last year's tsunami, managed to restart his fishing business despite the enormous damage to local ports and fishing grounds following the disasters. This, he says, has made the pain from the latest voluntary ban on fishing even worse.

"I wonder how long this (voluntary ban) will continue," he said. "We may eventually have to stop fishing for other kinds of fish as well ..."

To make ends meet, Suda is currently working part-time dividing wakame seaweed leaves, and doing other temporary jobs.

"I want to continue fishing here," he says. "The only thing we can do right now is keep working without thinking too much."

In step with the government's new food safety standards that lowered the maximum allowable dose of radiation per kilogram of food from 500 becquerels to 100 becquerels, the Miyagi Prefectural Government in March increased the number of marine food samples subject to testing from last year's 20 per week to 100 per week.

As a result, radioactive doses far exceeding the new limit were detected in four kinds of local fish, including sea bass, with the highest detected radiation dose of 360 becquerels per kilogram, and flounder, which had a maximum detected radiation dose of 400 becquerels per kilogram. The results led the Miyagi Prefectural Government and prefectural fishery cooperatives to institute a self-imposed ban on the fishing of all four kinds of fish this season at specified fishing grounds.

Meanwhile, local fish markets within Miyagi Prefecture have taken various steps to prevent fish contaminated with radiation levels higher than permitted from spreading through the market, including increasing available dosimeters and expanding radiation screenings on local marine products.

A fish market official says that despite efforts to assure product safety, however, many consumers, particularly in western Japan, are still shying away from fish from Miyagi Prefecture.

"The only thing we can do is to inform our customers that we are addressing the matter conscientiously through various ways, including radiation screenings," says Kunio Suno, the president of Ishinomaki Fish Market.

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