Photo/IllutrationThese surf clams, seen here in June at Hisanohama Port in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, were caught during test fishing. (Kazumasa Sugimura)

  • Photo/Illustraion

IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture--Ten species were added to the list of catches eligible for test fishing off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, but lingering concerns about radiation are keeping sales of such marine products low.

Still, the latest additions, which include the Japanese flounder, the white-spotted conger eel and the spotted halibut, have encouraged fishermen who have been struggling to rebuild their lives since the Fukushima nuclear disaster started in March 2011.

The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations on Aug. 25 added the 10 species to bring the total number eligible for test fishing to 83. The additions were approved during a meeting in Iwaki of the prefectural council for the rebuilding of regional fisheries.

“I think the 83 fish species accounted for about 70 percent of our pre-disaster hauls,” said Tetsu Nozaki, president of the prefectural fisheries federation. “I am placing particularly high hopes for a great boost in the value of our catches from the resumed fishing of Japanese flounder.”

Test fishing for flounder started on Sept. 2.

The Soma-Futaba fisheries cooperative association, which is part of the prefectural federation, plans to resume catches of white-spotted conger eel in September. But the Iwaki city fisheries cooperative association has decided to wait until water temperatures are low enough to ensure freshness of the white-spotted conger eel.

Test fishing has expanded because the environment of the sea has significantly improved since the initial impact of the nuclear disaster. Radioactivity levels in fish caught there now stably remain within the safety limit for many species.

Despite extensive testing to ensure safety of Fukushima marine products, many dealers are still reluctant to buy the species.

Fish and shellfish from Fukushima Prefecture are being shipped to various parts of Japan, such as the Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu and Hokuriku regions. Prices of seafood items from Fukushima Prefecture are not much lower than those from other prefectures, according to Yoshiharu Nemoto, head of the fishing ground environment division with the Fukushima Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station.

Yet few dealers are bidding for Fukushima marine products. If this trend continues with more Fukushima fish reaching the market, unsold leftovers from the prefecture could start to pile up and project a negative image, Nemoto said.

“It will become more necessary than ever to make publicity efforts, such as regularly releasing data concerning safety,” he said.

Test fishing began in June 2012, 15 months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Initially, only three species were covered: two kinds of octopuses and one type of shellfish.

While coverage has since expanded in stages, the latest addition of 10 species at one time is second only to the addition of 12 species, including brown sole and red sea bream, in August 2015.

Since April 2011, the Fukushima prefectural government has been monitoring the impact of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on fish and shellfish. The radiation tests, which cover about 200 samples every week, have so far been conducted on 38,000 samples of 184 species.

The concentration of radioactive cesium initially exceeded the central government’s safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram in most of the fish and shellfish surveyed. But the concentration has declined from year to year, and no sample has exceeded the safety limit since April 2015.

In more than 90 percent of the samples tested in July 2015 and later, radioactivity levels were below the detection limit.

Radioactivity levels in fish caught near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are also falling.

The central government’s Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA) on Aug. 25 released data on radioactivity levels in Japanese flounder caught in July in waters around the crippled nuclear plant.

The FRA said its high-precision tests, with a lower limit of detection set at a mere 1 becquerel per kg, found radioactivity levels of less than 10 becquerels per kg in all 41 individual organisms tested. More than 90 percent of them measured less than 5 becquerels per kg.

Catches from test fishing have continued to grow: 122 tons in 2012, 406 tons in 2013, 742 tons in 2014 and 1,512 tons in 2015.

But last year’s catch was only 5.8 percent of the annual catch of 26,050 tons averaged over the decade preceding the 2011 disaster.

Fishermen are holding out high hopes for more fish species being eligible for catches.