Fukushima olive flounders return to market(「ヒラメ漁」再開へ 出荷停止解除)

Kazuyasu Takahashi smiles in front of a boat in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, last month. He talked about his immense expectation for local olive flounders as the shipment ban on the fish was lifted.(ヒラメの出荷停止指示の解除を受け期待を高める高橋さん=6月9日、相馬市尾浜)

 FUKUSHIMA -- Olive flounders caught off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture will be back on the market as the government lifted a shipment ban on the fish, which were traded at high prices before the 2011 nuclear disaster. The ban was lifted early last month together with one on whitespotted conger eels.


 Olive flounders shipped from Fukushima ports are called Joban-mono, named after the traditional name for the area -- Joban.
  They are latest type of fish caught off the coast of the prefecture for which the shipping ban has been lifted. Olive flounders will become a subject of trial operations -- small-scale fishing and sales. It is expected the fish will be available in stores as early as September, after the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations and the Fukushima prefectural government have the necessary discussions. The number of types of fish still not allowed on the market now stands at 26.


 The level of radioactive substances in olive flounders from Fukushima Prefecture has remained below the government-set threshold of 100 becquerels per kilogram for quite some time. Thus, both the central and prefectural governments reached a conclusion that the levels in those fish would not exceed the threshold.
 Local fishery associations -- including the Soso (Soma-Futaba) and Iwaki areas' committees on test fishing and boards of the fishery cooperative heads -- will discuss necessary matters such as the period of trial operation, distribution plans and countermeasures against possible economic damage caused by concerns about contamination.


 "The catch of olive flounders is the third largest among fish caught in the prefecture," said Tetsu Nozaki, chair of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations. "It will contribute to progress in trial operations as a whole."


 The catch of olive flounders in Fukushima Prefecture in 2010 was 734 tons, ranked third in the nation. Prior to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, olive flounder was Fukushima's major fish. It was sold at a high price at the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, better known as Tsukiji Market. However, shipments of the fish were banned in June 2012.


 According to the prefectural government, levels of radioactive cesium in all 1,078 olive flounder caught for inspection between March 10, 2014, and May 23 this year fell below the government-set threshold. The density of the radioactive substance has been decreasing year by year. The highest level detected from fish caught in the same period was 87 becquerels per kilogram, with the average level at 9.7 becquerels per kilogram.


 The prefectural government had been conducting a number of inspections, as well as taking part in discussions with the central government to lift the ban. These efforts were made to ensure that no fish would exceed the threshold after the ban was lifted.


 'Special fish'
 People in the local fishery industry were filled with joy as they heard that the shipment ban would be lifted on the prefecture's fish. It was long-awaited news for them since they have been making efforts to reconstruct the area through trial operations aimed at restoring their fishery business to its condition before the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.


 Mitsunori Suzuki, chair of the Iwaki area's committee on trial operations, welcomed the ban on shipping olive flounders being lifted, saying: "Olive flounder is a major product in the Iwaki area's fishery business. I'm so happy." The local committee consists of fishermen who participate in trial operations.
 Those involved will have meetings on the operation in detail, according to Suzuki. They will also talk about other necessary matters including effective fishing methods and measures to eliminate groundless fears among consumers, Suzuki also said.


 "It'll give momentum to the fishery business," said Kazuyasu Takahashi, a 38-year-old fisherman of the Soma-Futaba fishery cooperative.
 Takahashi, the owner of a ship named Koki Maru, has caught olive flounders for about 20 years. He had been taking part in trial operations to catch fish such as young sand lance and whitebait. Still, "olive flounders are a special fish" for him. (Translated by The Japan News)


 According to Seiichi Saito, director of the Soma-Futaba fishery cooperative's operation department, trial operations to catch olive flounders will start as early as September in the sea off the Soso area as trawl fishing will begin in the season.
 "Lifting the shipment ban is delightful news," said Saito, 59. He also mentioned there is still a problem with the distribution phase, saying there is currently only one company dealing in live fish caught off the Soso area, down from five or so before the disaster.


 "With a growing demand for natural olive flounders across the nation, the fish have been sold with high price tags," said Takeshi Hamada, a professor at Sapporo-based Hokkai-Gakuen University. He also serves as a member of a prefectural council to discuss the reconstruction of the regional fishery business. "Joban-mono olive flounders will likely be sold at high prices throughout the nation as well," Hamada said.
 "Introducing an auction and bidding system will lead to an increase in the olive flounder price. I think it will boost local fishermen's motivation and bring progress in the fishery industry," he said.


 Hamada also mentioned the importance of markets and local businesses to be prepared to distribute the fish live, and keep in mind the restart of olive flounder fishing through trial operations.

( Translated by The Japan News )


 【 2016年6月10日・福島民友新聞掲載 】