Photo/IllutrationThe catch of flounder unloaded at Matsukawaura fishing port in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 28 (Kazumasa Sugiura)

SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture--Fish caught off Fukushima Prefecture was set to be exported March 1 for the first time since the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The first overseas taker is Thailand, with about 100 kilograms of flounder and 10 kg of littlemouth flounder expected to be flown to Bangkok from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The fish will be used in sushi and sashimi dishes served at 12 Japanese restaurants in the Thai capital.

“The export is encouraging news to us local fishermen as we are hoping to resume full-fledged fishing operations soon,” said Kanji Tachiya, the 66-year-old head of the Soma Futaba fishermen’s cooperative.

The catch was unloaded Feb. 28 at a fishing port in Soma, which is located less than 50 kilometers north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Flounder had been a staple fish in Fukushima Prefecture and fetched high prices prior to the triple meltdown that unfolded on March 11 seven years ago.

Fishermen in the prefecture went back to work in June 2012 on a trial basis after a more than one-year hiatus following the accident.

Seafood from the prefecture has since then only been permitted to be shipped after having its safety confirmed through radiation level checks.

Prefectural officials said no seafood had been found to show radiation levels higher than the national standards for almost three years.

However, the size of catches in 2017 was only 13 percent of pre-disaster levels, fishermen say.

While many consumers shun seafood caught in the prefecture due to its lingering negative image, distributors have been looking for buyers.

The idea for exporting the fish to Thailand was proposed by a trading house that had exported peaches grown in the prefecture.

“I would not like people in Thailand to miss out on the chance to eat the fish,” said Yoshishige Sato, the 65-year-old president of Sato Suisan, the local company that bought the stock.