Shortly after the well-documented dumping of radioactive tainted water into the Pacific Ocean on March 20th, Japanese officials came out and said that ocean currents would quickly dilute the contaminants, and said there was no wider threat to the marine environment or public health from eating seafood. But after a species of fish called Konago (sand lance) tested negatively for the radioactive material Caesium on April 4th, the Japanese media and public went into a frenzy. Six weeks have passed without any further reported cases of seafood contamination, but as the owner of Ezo Seafoods, I have been following the news vigilantly trying to get a clear picture of the situation, especially the scope and effectiveness of the testing program.
Here is a summary of the testing program drawn from various media reports and interviews with Hokkaido government officials, who also supplied some supporting charts:
SCOPE OF ONGOING TESTING PROGRAM AND RESULTS
-- Over 85 different types of fish have been tested since March 24th (up to May 17th)
-- Testing has been conducted by 8 separate organizations including fisheries research institutes, semi-government organizations, citizen’s groups and a university.
-- 287 tests have been conducted so far in Tokyo (3 tests), Kanagawa (19 tests), Chiba (46 tests), Ibaraki (152 tests), Miyagi (6 tests), Fukushima (39 tests), Hokkaido (3), other (14).
-- One type of fish “Konago” (sand lance) has tested negatively since April 4th in several areas including Ibaraki and Fukushima.
-- Since May 6th, the testing program has been conducted within a 300km radius from the Fukushima plant.
-- At least 14 tests have also been conducted in Hokkaido with no negative results.
-- The testing program includes weekly testing for common migratory fish ("Kaiyugyou" 回遊魚) such as Saba (Pacific Mackeral), Iwashi (Sardines), Katsuo (Bonito), Tara (Cod) and Salmon.
(original data in Japanese available on request)
The wide scope of the testing -- both in terms of types of fish and the different organizations conducting the testing -- and finally the results, should put most people's minds at ease a little. But the case of the Konago is a concern. It is fished commercially and while a ban remains on fishing, fishermen will suffer. It is also food for larger migratory fish, such as Saba (Pacific Mackeral). However no traces have been found in the Saba (Pacific Mackeral) in tests to date and levels of Caesium and Iodine have declined significantly in subsequent tests of Konago.
One concern in the media is that the fishermen (or Fishing Cooperatives) in each Prefecture -- not a higher authority -- select which fish to test. Yet fishermen are precisely the people who suffer most from rumor and fear so you would think they were not the most reliable people to make the decision. However the fact that 85 different types of fish have been selected for testing shows that fishermen are committed to the testing program. The reality is that if the fisherman can't prove that his catch is safe, its not even going to make it to market.
Title: "Implementation of Testing for Radiation of Ocean Fish Outline"
Pink: Sanma (Pacific Saury) Migrates south from Hokkaido in Oct-Nov.
Green: Sake (Salmon) Migrates south from Hokkaido in Aug-Sept.
Light Blue: Saba (Pacific Mackeral) Swims back and forth between Tohoku and Hokkaido
Purple: "Oshio" Pacific current, flows south from Hokkaido
Dark Blue: "Kuroshio" current, flows north east.
TESTING & SAFETY IN HOKKAIDO
Residents and tourists in Hokkaido should be concerned about the well-being of local fishing industry following the destruction of scallop and oyster beds as well as commercial fishing facilities by the Tsunami. But there is no reason at this stage to be concerned about seafood contamination. The map below outlines the nine ocean water tests and three seafood sample tests that have been conducted so far -- without any negative testing.
Hokkaido's waters are actually largely protected by Mother Nature herself -- the pacific current "Oshio," indicated in the diagram above in purple, flows south along the Pacific buffering Hokkaido from any contaminated water that may or may not be present. This means the verdant local marine life like "Soy", a rock fish that we like to serve at Ezo Seafoods, is safe. It also means that wild and cultivated oysters and scallops are free to grow in the pure oxygen and mineral rich water of Hokkaido. As for the King Red Crab, most of that is sourced well to the north of Hokkaido in the icy waters of Kamchatka.
As reported in separate news blogs, 90% of oyster stocks have been wiped out in Funkawan alone causing billions of yen damage. Akkeshi has also sustained significant damage to their oyster farms and have applied to the state for assistance. Oyster supplies from Akkeshi are expected to be at 50% for next Winter which will put pressure on pricing (my problem). The other sector that is suffering is tourism. Seafood tourist towns like Otaru are starting to see foreign tourists trickle back, but were virtual ghost towns for several months after the quake. Sellers at the Sapporo Wholesale markets are complaining the situation is "Hidoi" -- or dreadful. We can only hope that the news continues to get better, and that the Hokkaido Government continue to beat the drums and send the right messages to our main tourism markets.
Finally, spare a thought if you will for the plight of the Japanese fishermen and their families. Statistics indicate that 19,000 fishing boats have been washed away or destroyed and 138 fishing ports have sustained damage as a result of the Tsunami. They have really born the brunt of the triple disasters.
Outline of testing for Radioactivity on Marine Life and Ocean Water in Hokkaido
The stars indicate seafood sampling spots and the black dots indicate where water samples were taken. Between April 11 and May 11th, water sampling was conducted 9 times at Muroran, Erimo and Nemuro. No radiation was detected. As for Seafood testing,
April 12, Shirozake (White Salmon) Iodine=0 Caesium 134 = 0 Caesium 137 = 0.45
April 22, KarafutoMasu (Trout) Iodine=0 Caesium 134 = 4.39 Caesium 137 = 4.01
May 12, Konago Iodine=0 Caesium 134 = 0 Caesium 137 = 0
-Iodine maximum permissable level 2000Bq/kg
-Caesium maximum permissable level 500Bq/kg
*Maps provided by Economic Affairs Bureau of Sapporo Wholesale Fish Markets