Rumors are just rumorsUsually the fish restaurants that line Busan’s beaches are packed during its annual Busan International Film Festival. But this year, they were nearly empty due to local consumers’ ever-growing worries about radiation-contaminated seafood since the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011.
The JoongAng Ilbo’s thorough investigation into the sullen fish market in Busan, and in Incheon on the west coast, was even more shocking. Owners of seafood restaurants there say that they cannot sleep these days due to the alarming decrease in their customers. The damage extends to live fish wholesalers, groceries selling side dishes made from seafood and even karaoke bars and pubs around the beach, not to mention the fishermen who have almost given up fishing for the last two months. Our fishing industry is experiencing a very sad story.
The sudden rise in fear over radioactive seafood began after August, growing into a full-fledged panic. At the outset, their concerns were mostly confined to fish imports from Japan. But now it applies to domestic seafood and imports from elsewhere - despite a complete lack of scientific grounds.
Experts unanimously point out that the waters off the coast of Fukushima can hardly flow back into the seas around the Korean Peninsula because they drift eastward, in the direction of the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific. Moreover, fish caught off our coast don’t move toward Japan - or vice versa - because of ocean currents. Radioactivity tests on our domestic fisheries have not detected any radiation beyond permissible levels. Yet, a vague fear continues to fuel our people’s extreme avoidance of seafood. Groundless rumors on the Internet are also deepening their distrust in the quality of our seafood.
Despite this crisis, the government has stopped short of offering proper measures to tackle the deepening fright. Officials only say that “our people are avoiding seafood based on their judgment” and that “there is not much to do on the part of the government except publicizing the safety of our seafood.”
But the economic pain is a grave issue to those in the fishing and seafood business. The government must first survey their excruciating pain and come up with feasible measures to relieve it, including emergency subsidies. People’s baseless shunning of seafood is just an issue for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. The government must prepare a variety of solutions to address their economic plight as soon as possible. We should not make the mistake of killing our fishery industry because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.