News in Pictures / Japan’s Fishing Industry Struggles with China Import Ban

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Boats mainly used for sea cucumber fishing are seen in dry dock at a fishing port in Hiranai, Aomori Prefecture, on Sept. 27.

Over a month has passed since the discharge of treated water into the ocean from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant started on Aug. 24. China’s response of banning imports of Japanese marine products, imposed on the day, is impacting the Japanese fishing industry, especially fishermen and seafood processing companies handling products mainly exported to China such as scallops and sea cucumbers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Employees process scallops at a plant in Aomori on Sept. 9.
Courtesy of Shimane Prefecture’s fisheries technology center (inset)
Young sea cucumbers grown for ocean release at Shimane Prefecture’s fisheries technology center

The first discharge of treated water from the crippled plant managed by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. ended on Sept. 11, and the second release is scheduled to start on Thursday. Prior to discharge, treated water that contains small amounts of radioactive tritium is diluted with seawater to less than 1,500 becquerels per liter, far below national and international standards.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A researcher at a facility in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture, tests tritium levels in fish caught in waters near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 25.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
An official of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. speaks about the system for testing samples of diluted treated water for tritium at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 27.

Despite initial concerns over rumors of harm to seafood from Fukushima Prefecture, products from the prefecture have not seen a major drop in price.

However, China’s ban is resulting in excessive stocks of products such as scallops and sea cucumbers, leading to a decrease in their trading prices.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Boxes of scallops initially for export to China pile up at a seafood processing company in Hakodate, Hokkaido, on Sept. 8.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The president of a seafood processing company in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, looks at dried abalones on Sept. 21. The shellfish were returned to the company following China’s import ban.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Aomori Gov. Soichiro Miyashita, right, speaks with scallop farmers in Hiranai, Aomori Prefecture, on Sept. 13.

The government is trying to expand sales channels outside of China. Scallops have been added to menus at some restaurants and local government cafeterias.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A lunch featuring deep-fried local scallops that was added to the menu at the Aomori prefectural government cafeteria from Sept. 20

Ambassadors to Japan from the United States and European Union among others have expressed support for Japan’s fishing industry, and their countries and regions are cooperating in expanding imports of scallops.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, right, speaks with fishermen at a harbor in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 31.

Sea cucumbers, however, are a luxury food in China but are not widely consumed in other parts of the world, making it difficult to expand export destinations and domestic consumption.

“We should see the current situation as an opportunity to increase domestic consumption of Japanese marine products,” said Nihon University Prof. Koji Kato. “Support should be provided to the industry as a whole through campaigns carried out by public-private partnerships, among other measures.”