Fish caught during test fishing operations are sold at the Iwaki City Central Wholesale Market on Jan. 13. (Kazumasa Sugimura)
IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture–For the first time, radioactivity levels were lower than the government’s safety limit in every seafood sample caught off Fukushima Prefecture for an entire year, officials said.
The Fukushima Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station said 8,502 fish and shellfish samples were tested in 2016, and all recorded radioactivity readings under the safety standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram.
Ninety-five percent of them tested below the detection limit of around 15 becquerels per kilogram.
It was also the first time more than 90 percent of samples were below the detection threshold since the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant started in March 2011, according to the officials.
People in the local fishing industry hope the numbers will help lead to a return to normal operations, although they say it is difficult to gauge the impact of harmful rumors about Fukushima seafood because prices depend on multiple factors, including quantity and quality.
“Test fishing is, after all, test fishing,” said Yuji Kanari, a managing director with seafood wholesaler Iwaki Gyorui KK. “Turning that into full fishing operations like before (the disaster) will emerge as a major challenge this year.
“I hope that local consumption of locally produced goods that was disrupted by the nuclear disaster will soon be back.”
The hauls from test fishing, which began in June 2012, have grown from year to year.
Preliminary figures show last year’s catch at 2,072 tons, up 560 tons from 2015, but still only 7.9 percent of the annual catch of 26,050 tons averaged over the decade preceding the 2011 disaster.
Ninety-four species are eligible for this year’s test fishing, which the Soma-Futaba fisheries cooperative association started on Jan. 10 and the Iwaki city fisheries cooperative association began on Jan. 12.