Fish imports keep falling especially from Japan

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Fish imports keep falling especially from Japan

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Imports of Japanese fish have dropped almost by half as consumers worry about radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

According to statistics released by the Korea Customs Service yesterday, imports of Japanese fish for this year through August declined 43.7 percent compared to five years ago.

China, Russia and Vietnam maintained their top three rankings for imports of fish.

While imports from the top five countries account for 70 percent of all fish imports, Japan was ousted from its fourth slot last year for the first time since 2009. The United States is now the fourth-largest importer.

Along with the decline in Japanese fish imports, the No. 1 imported fish, Russian myungtae, or pollack, also fell this year from a year earlier.

According to data released by the KCS, frozen myungtae from Russia was the No. 1 imported fish in terms of volume over the past five years.

However, as the overall domestic consumption of fish declined due to the fear of nuclear radioactive contamination, the import of frozen myungtae decreased 18.5 percent to 1.2 trillion won ($1.1 billion) and its shipments decreased 9.3 percent to 105,000 tons as of August this year.

“Although China is maintaining its status as the No. 1 fish exporter to Korea, the amount of its fish exports to the country is decreasing,” said a spokesman for the KCS. “The second-largest exporter, Russia, was increasing its exports, but they fell this year. Imports of Japanese fish have been steadily declining, and since 2011, they have been reduced drastically.”

The earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi plants occurred in March 2011.

Among the top 10 fish items in terms of imports, myungtae, frozen surimi (a fish pasted) and shrimp accounted for 40 percent of all fish imports.

Opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Woo-nam said yesterday that Japanese fish products mislabeled as Russian fish are still being sold in the domestic market, even after the government promised to crack down on mislabeling.

The government earlier warned fish retailers that it will punish fake labeling with up to seven years in prison and fines of up to 100 million won.

Representative Kim said there have been 17 cases this year in which Japanese fish were labeled Russian fish by retailers who were caught.

There were a total of 62 such cases in 2011, according to the data received by the National Fisheries Products Quality Management Service.

The lawmaker called for the government to ban fish imports from all regions of Japan yesterday.

“Although the government has taken the measure of banning imports of Japanese fish from eight prefectures of Japan including Fukushima,” Kim said, “the policy was not only late but also passive. Even now, the government must ban imports of Japanese fish from all prefectures. Only when consumers can safely purchase seafood will the domestic fishing industry revive.”

BY KIM JUNG-YOON [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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