Many of South Korea’s fish markets were empty on Thursday after Japan began releasing treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
According to Tokyo Electric Power Co, the water, which had been kept at the nuclear plant since the March 2011 nuclear reactor meltdown, was treated through a custom purification system. Both the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency have stated that the release meets safety standards.
However, fishermen and seafood eaters in South Korea are still wary about the potential impact on their businesses and health.
Jagalchi Market, one of the most popular seafood markets in Busan, and Millak Raw Fish Town, which overlooks the Gwangalli Sea and is famous for its sashimi restaurants, were both deserted on Thursday. The Dongmun Fish Market, which is located on the island of Jeju, also had few customers.
One of the seafood merchants who have been selling at the Dongmun market for over two decades said it used to be busy in the morning and in the evenings, even when business was slow. However, since the announcement, the market has been deserted without any visitors. He noted that business was actually better amidst the COVID-19 pandemic than now.
Another fisherman, Shim Myung-soo, who is from the city of Gunsan, said he and other fishermen are concerned for their survival and livelihoods as the demand for seafood has plummeted in recent weeks – despite the Korean harvest holiday Chuseok, which is coming up next month.
According to him, seafood consumption has gone down by at least a quarter, which has driven prices down. Because of this, going to the seafood auctions has been frustrating.
With the decreased demand, he has been freezing his unsold seafood. He is also pausing the use of tanker trucks, which are typically used to transport live fish.
Prior to this, a crate of jack fish aka “yellow tail”, which is often eaten both cooked and raw, fetches 40,000 to 50,000 won at the Fish Market. On Wednesday, however, one of these crates was sold for 20,000 won, less than half of its normal price. The cost of mackerel, a commonly eaten fish in Korea, also dropped by 10 to 20 percent.
Merchants have also been on edge as the gizzard shad festival is set to begin next week at the Myeongi Market in Busan. Cheon Dong-sik, one of the festival’s organizers, said fishermen only recently began to recover from the pandemic.
According to the Seoul government, which is scrambling to minimize the impact on the industry, they plan on conducting daily radioactivity testing on all kinds of seafood, no matter the origin. The results will be available to the public.
Gangwon Province will also be expanding its current radioactivity tests on seafood – from a twice-a-month basis to a daily basis. Jeju Island will also be increasing the coverage of its radioactivity tests from 70 seafood species to 200.
The South Gyeonsang Province will also be livestreaming its radioactivity tests online.