Radiation concerns shrink seafood appetites in east China

10:47, April 16, 2011      

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Chinese fishermen say domestic demand for seafood caught off the coast of Shandong Province has dropped since Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant revealed it had dumped radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

Xu Wenhao, manager of Deshengfu seafood wholesale store in the provincial capital Jinan, said recent daily sales revenue was only one- third of the same time last year.

"Our daily revenue this time last year was more than 40,000 yuan (6,123 U.S. dollars), but at present it hovers at around 12,000 yuan," said Xu.

Although authorities in the province advise that fish caught off its coast are good to eat, consumers aren't taking any chances.

"I love seafood, but don't dare to eat it now. Even though it's reported safe, I don't buy it since seawater travels," said a consumer surnamed Jiang while shopping.

"When I go grocery shopping or eat at restaurants, I try to avoid seafood since China is so close to Japan and I'm worried that the seawater has been contaminated," said a woman surnamed Wang in Qingdao City of Shandong.

The crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plant on the northeast coast of Japan had recently dumped a massive mount of low-level radioactive water into the nearby sea.

Jiang bought some frozen saltwater fish. "These fish were caught before the Japanese earthquake, so I believe they are fine," Jiang said.

Fishermen in Qingdao face a triple whammy, less catch, lower prices and rising fishing costs.

"It's a tough year for the seafood business. The catch is roughly 20 or 30 percent less than last year, and the seafood prices are lower," said Duan Mingjie, a boat owner at the city's Shazijou Port.

"With less supply, the prices should go up. But due to nuclear radiation concerns, demand has been hit hard," he said.

Actually the catch is safe, said Duan, as the seawater is monitored by the authorities. There is also a testing center at the port, and seafood can only be sold on the market after passing the test, he added.

"If we knew some water was contaminated, we wouldn't dare fish there ourselves, since we have our own safety to worry about," he said, adding that sadly people didn't seem to believe that.

Although the nuclear radiation contamination will definitely effect marine life, no one knows exactly what the consequences will be, said Liu Yang with the ocean research institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The cost of fishing is rising with higher fuel prices and labor costs.

"The diesel price is more than 8,600 yuan per tonne and the salary for those I hire on the boat has almost doubled compared with last year. Today is the first time I have sailed out to fish this year and the trip left me 20,000 yuan in the red," said Duan.

"As far as I know, 80 percent of the boats at the port haven't gone out to sea to fish for a long time," he said.

However, China's seafood exporters are reporting increasing demand from Japan, as fears of radiation contamination has turned many of the country's consumers off buying their local product.

Shandong Oriental Ocean Sci-Tech, one of China's leading firms engaged in the breeding, raising, processing and export of aquatic products, has been overwhelmed by "surging" orders for seafood products from Japanese clients, said Yu Dehai, secretary of the chairman of board of the firm.

Meanwhile, customers of the Republic of Korea (ROK), which used to be an important market for Japan's seafood products, were also turning to Chinese alternatives, said Zhu Changliang, executive head of aquatic product trade association of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.

Orders for seafood products from Japan and the ROK would continue to rise this year, Zhu forecast.

Source: Xinhua

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