Windfall from the radiation scareOver the weekend, I went grocery shopping at a hypermarket and witnessed an interesting sight. Lobsters from the Atlantic Ocean, not frozen but live, were piled up, and customers picked them without hesitation. Lobster was an unfamiliar ingredient to me, so I wasn’t sure how to cook it. When I asked a fellow shopper, she suggested putting a few pieces of ginger and a slice of lemon in the water when I boiled it. “Is it how it’s supposed to be prepared?” I asked. “It’s just my way,” she responded. People seem accustomed to lobster.
I inquired with the manager in charge of seafood at the market about lobsters. Last summer, a radiation-contamination panic from the Fukushima nuclear disaster hurt seafood consumption drastically, and the supermarket presented lobsters as a special promotion, which proved to be a great hit. Since then, 600,000 lobsters have been imported from overseas and three out of 10 lobsters caught in the United States are consumed by Koreans, the manager explained.
Another windfall from the radiation fear is Norwegian salmon. Last month, the biggest Norwegian salmon supplier set up a live salmon processing plant in Incheon. Now, fresh salmon from Norway can be on the Korean table. Koreans prefer chewy textures and nutty flavors in their fish, and salmon had not been too popular in the past. In Asia, Korea’s salmon consumption was one of the lowest, but this year demand exploded.
What’s most impressive is the overwhelming demand of Korean consumers. In a short period of time, Koreans have taken more than 30 percent of the American lobster market and attracted the Norwegian business. Even Japan, the site of the nuclear accident, couldn’t do that. What’s disappointing is that the fishing industry has failed to create trust when consumers are so solid. The seafood section manager said that farmed fish from the South Sea and the waters around Jeju Island are safe, but consumers shun them, too.
However, the radiation scare from Japan may not be the only reason for distrust. The consumers may feel less than confident about the competence of the fishing industry. Norway is a seafood farming giant, but in the past, its fishing industry had faced a crisis due to environmental pollution caused by small farms. But Norway restructured the industry to corporate-oriented farming and changed fishing policies and production paradigms by heavily investing in research and development and training professionals.
While we also speak of “maritime development,” not much investment or many efforts have been made to improve the old farming industry. The industry may think the consumption of local fish will come back when the radiation panic subsides. But can it happen without anything changing?
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by YANG SUNNY