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The World

March 24, 2011

Japan's fishermen fear spread of radiation scare


Yesterday, government officials in Tokyo and five nearby cities announced that infants should no longer consume tap water, due to elevated levels of radioactive iodine were found at a water treatment plant.

This week's report on seawater has turned fishermen's concerns increasingly on their wares, the nation's signature export — even though the Japanese government has said they are safe to eat.

Northeast Japan, where the quake and tsunami hit, plays a vital role in Japan's $2.5 billion annual fishing industry and harbor towns such as Kesennuma are already reeling from nature's devastation.

"I wonder whether this town can survive," said Kondou, who has gone to sea since he was 15 and now fills the shiny hip boots of his father and grandfather before him. "I hope it can, but I'm not sure."

Not far from the berth where Kondou has ported his trawler, a mammoth fish processing plant and rows of adjacent fishing company offices lie in tatters, their records scattered in the wreckage. Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents remain missing.

On a recent morning, Yoko Tsurumoto rifled through the waterlogged remains of her fishing company office a block from the Kesennuma harbor. She and many of her 44 employees watched as one of the firm's four fishing trawlers burned before their eyes.

Ten days later, she was trying so salvage business records she insists are invaluable to keeping her family's 60-year-old business afloat. She pulled some folders from a blue plastic crate hauled from the office and declared, "It's all ruined."

But even as the town ponders ways to begin rebuilding its hallowed harbor, residents say they are helpless to battle fears about radioactive fish..

"Natives cherish this port and want to rebuild," said Kenzo Onodera, who owns a fish distribution company here. "But they're helpless against rumors that our fish are wracked by radiation."

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