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Radiation fears haunt Japan’s fishing industry

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Steve Chiotakis: The Japanese government today said while radiation levels from the Fukushima nuclear plant are down, the month-long crisis is as disastrous as the nuclear incident 25 years ago at Chernobyl. The radiation that’s leaked from the plant to the sea is wreaking havoc on Japan’s commercial fishing. And a $2 billion a year seafood sector.

From Japan, Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: It’s hard to imagine more sardines in one place. In the eastern port city of Choshi, a commercial fishing boat unloads one giant net after another of the shiny silver fish. Actually, this is a slow morning. Exports to Russia and Europe and Southeast Asia are down because of radiation fears.

Takeharu Suzuki is a fifth generation fisherman. He goes out every day with his dad and his uncle.

Takeharu Suzuki: Usually, I wake up at midnight, go out and fish until late morning. But these days I’m done early, because buyers want less fish.

Forty-four-year-old Suzuki stands in the local fish market, wearing a track suit, rubber boots and rubber gloves. Here, some fish have fallen off 50 percent in price, since the news came that radiation from the Fukushima plant was spilling into nearby waters.

Suzuki: We send our fish to Yokohama and Tokyo to check for radiation. They’re fine. Still, the rumors ruin everything.

Ruining, for instance, the sushi scene in Tokyo. Restaurant workers bark out for customers. But fish wholesaler Haruo Shinozaki says the regular folks here are hesitant.

Haruo Shinozaki: People are scared to eat fish. So my business is down by half.

Fisherman Suzuki sees no end to the troubles. It’s all about Fukushima.

Suzuki: Our fate all depends on the nuclear plant problem. If it lasts a long time, I may have to find something else to do.

That’ll be hard. He’s been a fisherman since he was 18, and he still has two daughters to put through college. But he doesn’t look anxious. Suzuki explains: I deal with nature for a living. The storms always come, and we know how to survive.

Then, one of his friends from the dock cuts off the interview with a friendly dig at America. He tells me, let the Americans know that Japanese fish are fine — the current actually carries radiation away from Japan — and toward you guys.

In Choshi, eastern Japan, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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