Fishing industry refutes doomsters

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
November 8, 2013 01:00 AM

The West Coast fishing industry is starting to respond to the alarmist reports of radiation from Japan contaminating the Pacific Ocean. The October issue of Pacific Fishing magazine takes on the "unscrupulous activists" and "Web bloggeristas," quoting headlines that are "just plain wrong," including this killer-diller: "At the very least, your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over."

The industry's concern is well founded. In recent weeks there have been reports in online news sites such as Asia-Pacific Journal linking Fukushima contamination to sick seals in Alaska, spotty salmon runs on the Skeena River and even the ongoing, unexplained starfish die-off in Howe Sound. It's all speculation, but people are taking it in, some are reporting it as fact, and the results from the perception alone could be catastrophic for the fishing industry and seafood businesses.

The October Pacific Fishing article fights back with the headline: "They say radiation will poison your catch! Thing is, they're lying."

Attempting to explain the Fukushima disaster's marine impact in a scientific, rational way, the magazine quotes a radio-ecologist from Oregon, Delvan Neville, who has been testing albacore caught off the Northwest coast. Albacore spawn near Japan then migrate to our side of the ocean. A test of 27 albacore found "detectable radiation" in 60 to 70 per cent, but Neville concludes, "Worrying about these traces is like worrying about getting sunburned from the stars at night."

The article provides a healthy dose of sanity to the debate, but in its eagerness to refute the doomsters, it unfortunately minimizes the scope of the catastrophe.

In July, the government of Japan admitted that the crippled nuclear complex had been leaking radioactive water daily into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster began, back in March 2011. No one knows how much, but the figure that was put out there was 300 tonnes per day.

This was reported by Reuters news agency and National Geographic magazine, to name two credible sources.

The following month, the plant's operator, Tepco, announced a single discharge into the Pacific of, again, 300 tonnes of radioactive water.

Since then, the single discharge has been re-reported, as have subsequent leaks, but the initial revelation has largely dropped from media radar.

The Pacific Fishing article acknowledges there were early discharges into the sea, but quantifies the scale of the contamination by focusing on the impact of the single 300-tonne leak announced in August. As a result, the article leaves the reader still wondering.

It all reminds me of jailhouse lawyers. Everyone is trying to get a handle on this disaster, and what it means to them, but the people who are best positioned to know - the senior governments and their teams of scientists - are telling us nothing.

Everything is fine, they say. And that's it.

It's not enough.

The fishing industry needs some damage control here. The people need some answers, including real data and real analysis. This patronizing silence is downright irresponsible.

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