Fukushima water discharge raises worries for S. Korean fishermen, food producers

2023.08.23 13:55:02 | 2023.08.23 13:57:08

Radiation tests are being conducted on Japanese fisheries products at Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in Seoul. [Photo by Yonhap]이미지 확대

Radiation tests are being conducted on Japanese fisheries products at Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in Seoul. [Photo by Yonhap]

As Japan is set to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean this Thursday, South Korean small business owners and self-employed individuals in the fisheries and food sector find themselves in even deeper turmoil.

“Sales in sashimi and sushi restaurants took a big hit after the Fukushima disaster in 2011,” said an industry insider, expressing concern about the potential serious blow to seafood industry revenues.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) announced on Tuesday its intention to initiate the release of contaminated water stored in tanks, processed through the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), into the ocean via an undersea tunnel off the plant’s coast.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that Japan’s water discharge plan meets international safety standards with minimal radiological impact. Nonetheless, Korea remains apprehensive about a seafood consumption decline due to consumer anxiety.

Small business owners and self-employed individuals in Korea, already grappling with a prolonged downturn due to Covid-19, find their recovery efforts further stymied by high prices and sluggish consumption. Japan’s impending nuclear-contaminated water discharge adds another significant obstacle, potentially affecting not just fishermen, but also the restaurant and catering industries. To quell customer concerns, some eateries have even posted signs declaring their non-use of Japanese seafood.

“We have not used Japanese seafood because it is expensive, but since the Fukushima contaminated water became an issue, we are actively informing our customers that we do not use Japanese seafood,” said a restaurant owner.

As the discharge of contaminated water from Fukushima is expected to cause damage to the fisheries and food industry in the country, there are growing calls for the government to come up with measures.

“I don’t know how to deal with this difficulty in the absence of clear measures,” said a seafood-related business owner on Jeju Island, emphasizing the need for practical policies that have a tangible impact, other than efforts to strengthen water quality control.

The South Korean government plans, in the first place, to focus on encouraging seafood consumption and monitor the damage situation while developing countermeasures through consultations with relevant ministries.

The Ministry of SMEs and Startups is considering measures to support affected small business owners. Minister of SMEs and Startups Lee Young told a National Assembly plenary session on Tuesday that the government is “carrying out measures such as expanding the use of national gift certificates, which can only be used in traditional markets, to be used in wholesale markets, while preparing promotional events for small seafood businesses.”

An unnamed official from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries also said that his ministry is practically reviewing the SME ministry’s tool that was used to support small businesses during the pandemic and that the ministry, if needed, will seek consultations with relevant agencies.

By Pulse

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