As Its Nuclear Crisis Continues, Japan Catches Radioactive Fish

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A lone angler casts the line at sea with Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant in the background along the Pacific coast some 120 miles northeast of Tokyo

NATSUKI SAKAI / Nippon News / ABACAUSA.COM

For an island nation whose seafood industry has already been severely crippled, this is just another piece of bad news.

Two samples of tiny konago, young lance fish used in Japan as a pungent side dish, have been found carrying high levels of radioactive materials in the Pacific waters off the country’s coast. The samples were found before Tokyo Electric Power Company started to pour 11,500 tons of low-contaminated radioactive water into the sea from the site of the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor, which has the potential to make matters worse. TEPCO officials have repeatedly assured that water radiation levels, though high in the immediate vicinity of the plant, do not threaten human or marine safety. But the konago were apprehended 50 miles south of the reactors and far outside of the 12.5-mile evacuation zone. Since then, Tokyo has announced new radiation standards for fish.

(More on TIME.com: See the massive clean up Japan faces before rebuilding)

Just how contaminated were the little swimmers? The Wall Street Journal reports that the first sample, caught last Friday, contained twice the permissible level of radioactive iodine-131, which, in humans, is linked to thyroid cancer. The second, caught on Monday, contained just over the permissible level of cesium, with an effect on people that is undetermined.

The wall of water that struck Japan post-earthquake obliterated fishing villages all along its northeast coast. In some areas, 90% of the seafood industry was destroyed, an enormous blow to a country in which fish and other underwater delicacies account for nearly half of its $3 billion in annual food exports. The contaminated konago will certainly not help the weakened market. The fish were found south of Fukushima, in Ibaraki prefecture, which had just decided to resume fishing after the string of disasters. The prefecture’s local government has put a hold on konago fishing since the incident. And now, all ports looking to begin casting their lines again will have to conduct radioactive contamination tests first.

(More on TIME.com: See how, with no end to Japan’s nuclear crisis in sight, residents and fishermen are fighting back)

It’s unclear how serious the situation is. Japanese officials have pointed out that this particular species of fish usually comes to Ibaraki from northern parts, and could easily have passed through the waters by the damaged nuclear plant. Fishery cooperatives have tested ten other types of fish, but none were deemed abnormal. Countries around the world are heavily monitoring their Japanese imports for radiation, India going as far as to suspend them for the next three months.

As Japan’s nuclear crises rages on, there have been reports of other contaminated foodstuffs—things like milk and spinach. But news of the konago has sparked greater concern. Not only is the fish market the center of Japan’s coastal economy, but sea creatures, radioactive or not, are capable of traveling in unpredictable ways. (via WSJ)

(More on TIME.com: See TIME’s full coverage of the crises in Japan)

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