Fishing Five Years after Fukushima

Fukushima Was the Worst Nuclear Disaster of the 21st Century, and It Shut Down Japan’s Fisheries.  How Are those Fisheries Doing Now?

Fukushima by Debbie Kay

Early predictions said that the 2011 meltdown of reactor 4 at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, Japan, would be one of the biggest catastrophes in recent history for Pacific Ocean fisheries.  It was thought the nearby ocean currents would disperse toxic and radioactive debris over thousands of miles of water.  So far, though, things haven’t been as disastrous as expected.  Now, five years later, some of Japan’s fisheries are opening again, and the populations of the local fish are healthy enough to provide excellent fishing when radiation levels have finally been deemed safe.

About Fukushima

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake appeared approximately 43 miles off the coast of Japan.  The resulting tsunami not only devastated a number of coastal villages, it caused mass destruction to a nuclear plant in the town of Fukushima.  Towns for dozens of miles in either direction were abandoned as a result of the meltdown.  The reactor continues to leak today, in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars spent trying to contain the radiation.  Though a big spike in radiation levels were predicted for the Pacific Coast, this has not happened to date, and fish in Alaska, British Columbia, and the West Coast of the US have continued to test at very low radiation levels.

The Return of Salmon Fishing

In September of 2015, the town of Nahara, located 20 miles from the reactor, was released from the evacuation order.  A month later, salmon fishing returned to local streams as the area and the fish were found to have negligible radiation levels.  Fishing began anew in October of 2015 for salmon, and no problems have been reported either with the health of the fish or the risk to humans.

Fish are Proliferating off the Coast

In another interesting turn of events, the closed region surrounding the disaster has been found to have large stocks of fish a mere five years later.  Rockfish and snow crabs populations have exploded, as well as a number of the smaller fish and invertebrates that serve as food for the larger species.  All signs indicate that fish will continue to flourish while the area remains closed.

Management Lessons

One of the takeaways here is the effectiveness of marine sanctuaries that allow fish to repopulate.  As long as numbers aren’t depleted below a certain level, fish populations will see a large and immediate rebound (in contrast with the total collapse of Atlantic cod). It’s an encouraging lesson for fishermen and conservationists in other parts of the world, such as those trying to save five Pacific Coast salmon species.

For now, scientists continue to monitor the leaking in reactor 4 and its impact on the health of local fish, hoping to see signs that the waters in the region will be safe for humans once again.  Until then, the local fish are thriving thanks thanks to the short breather from fishing pressure.

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