Radioactive fish caught off Japanese coast

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on April 5, 2011 at 7:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 5 at 7:24 PM

SEATTLE -- The Japanese government was forced to act Tuesday when a dangerous ocean catch was hauled in many miles off shore.

Two fish caught 50 miles off the Japanese coast had radioactive readings exceeding permissible levels.

The radiation standards for fish will be the same as for vegetables. After spinach and milk exceeded safety limits following the quake, health experts said people would still have to eat enormous quantities of tainted produce or dairy before getting even the amount of radiation contained in a CT scan.

Japan imports far more fish than it exports, but it sent the world $2.3 billion worth of seafood last year.

Still, the discovery hits Japan in its cultural breadbasket. The contaminated fish are forcing new safety standards in popular fish markets.

"These are not the species we would catch but they form the forage base for lots of other species," said University of Washington fish researcher Tim Essington.

Right about this time, juvenile albacore starting making their way across the Pacific Ocean using ocean currents. Fortunately, it still takes those fish about 1-3 years to make it to the United States, according to Seattle ocean current specialist Curt Ebbesmeyer.

"The currents are very erratic," said Ebbesmeyer. "They are not a straight shot. It's not like riding a subway train."

Even though tuna can make the trip, experts say its highly unlikely a fish with anything close to a dangerous dose of radiation would ever make it across.

Still, Japanese officials adopted new standards for seafood as a precaution. And the mere suggestion that seafood from Japan could be at any risk stirred worries throughout the fishing industry.

"Even if the government says the fish is safe, people won't want to buy seafood from Fukushima," says Ichiro Yamagata, a fisherman who lived in the shadow of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. "We probably can't fish there for several years."

Fukushima is not a major fishing region, and no fishing is allowed in the direct vicinity of the plant. But experts estimate the coastal areas hit by the massive wave account for about a fifth of Japan's annual catch.

In a rare bit of good news, the utility that owns the crippled nuclear plant about 140 miles northeast of Tokyo said highly radioactive water that had been leaking into the ocean from a crack discovered over the weekend had stopped early Wednesday.

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