How the tsunami and the nuclear crisis affect Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo published in Aftonbladet on March 27th 2011

Photo caption: LOOSING CUSTOMERS Thousands of fishermen lost their lives in the tsunami. Ships were destroyed and sank. And now comes the next hit for the Japanese fishing industry: the wholesalers in Tokyo loose business from foreign customers who are afraid of the radiation.

Photo. Yoshi Fukuda


“We have to keep on working.”



The fishing industry in Japan has been severely hit.

Two weeks after the earthquake, there still is significant concern at the world’s largest fish market Tsukiji, in Tokyo.

–          But we have to keep on working, also for the sake of the fishermen in North Eastern Japan. Fish is the pillar of Japanese food culture, says wholesaler Takayuki Katamata.

The fishermen in North Eastern Japan deliver a third of all that is sold to shops, restaurants and international customers through Tsukiji in Tokyo. Thousands of fishermen lost their lives in the tsunami. Ships were destroyed and sank. Factories have been washed away to the ground.

Toshio Awatake is a wholesaler with his own sushi bar in front of Tsukiji. He feels strongly for the fishermen in the hardest hit areas and worries about their situation. It is hard to draw a limit for the spreading of radioactive materials in the sea.

Fish is to be tested

Kyoko Hukushi who works for Ginlikai, an organisation for wholesalers that Toshio is a member of, says:

–          According to the fishing ministry, the sea will cleanse and wash (radioactive detritus) away. The currents carry potential radioactive materials out towards the sea and not towards the Japanese coastal line.

But the situation in North Eastern Japan is still so problematic that it is hard to discuss the future of the Japanese fishing industry. It will take time to build up the ports again and along Fukushimas coast there is a considerable risk for radiation. Tomorrow, certain fish types will be tested for radioactivity in Chiba North of Tokyo and the wholesalers anxiously await the results.

The Japanese government encourages fishermen in the Tohoku region to apply for jobs on the ships working to clean up the ocean, and some fishermen from the Fukushima area have been offered compensation. But there has been no talk of any financial help for the wholesalers despite the fact that they find themselves in a very difficult position. Some Japanese customers have reduced their orders and international customers have cancelled theirs.

For Toshio it is important to remember that it is the fishermen in Tohoku who have been severely hit. He proudly sells the mackerel and the shellfish that are still available from the region with little signs: “Gambare Miyagi, Keep on keeping on Japan, Go on Tsukiji.” Wholesalers have collected 11 Million Yen, around 860 000 Kronor, for affected fishermen.

“Worry too much”

–          Many companies in Hong Kong and Singapore have cancelled their fish orders because of the risk for radioactive materials. But the truth is that the fish is the same in all Japan! Says Toshio.

20-30% of his business is in exports and he is therefore worried about the effect increasingly alarming reports from the nuclear plant could have.

–          But if we worry too much, we won’t be able to eat anything in the end!” he exclaims

–          People in other countries worry too much.

It will take approximately five years for the sea to recover from the earthquake and the tsunami. The bottom composition has changed and that may lead to the disappearance of certain species of fish and shellfish from the area and the restructuring of shoals in other areas instead. But Toshio means that the tsunami will have a more direct effect on the future of the fishing industry.

Destroyed farms

– In Matsushima, there were oyster farms that delivered to all Japan and even to France. Same thing for scallop farms in Aomori. Both farming areas have been devastated and the older ladies who worked opening the shells have lost their lives. It is not certain that someone will invest in rebuilding the factories again, because few are those who want to work in that manner today, says Toshio.

Elin Lindqvist

Photo caption: The fish market in Tokyo is the world’s biggest.

Photo: Yoshi Fukuda

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