After 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japanese fishermen have barely any chance of fishing there

Radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was destroyed in 2011 in the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, is still high in much of the Japanese coastline.

The epicenter of the March 11, 2011, disaster, located in Tohoku Prefecture, was no more than four miles offshore of the coastal town of Iwaki, Japan.

This coastline has changed a lot since then. Old structures have been demolished or given up and marine species ranging from tuna to herring have moved in.

The townspeople are still smarting from the nuclear plant and the radiation fallout and fish is not the only thing that has changed. There are a lot of insects with no friendly names.

“Very few people go to the sea. No one goes swimming anymore,” says Junichiro Asano, an 83-year-old resident of Iwaki.

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. In a café with a white wall behind white curtains, office workers gather on a hot summer afternoon to watch a mariner sail past on a trawler.

“The sea used to be always busy but now you hardly see a person or a boat,” says Katsushi Kawakita, a young captain with Sagamihara-Sokari Marine Services.

Last year, about 20 million pounds of fish were caught in Iwaki. Nearly all of it was processed in towns on the eastern side of the Tohoku Trough in the Sea of Japan. A year ago, in Iwaki, there were fewer fish boats and a lot fewer restaurants.

But whether or not you like fishing and eating fish, you have to admit the fish is not rotten. It’s perfectly fine, farmed and regularly caught. Not to mention the taro, hamachi, koi, dolphins and crayfish.

Don’t ask why the Tohoku Trough has suddenly become a mecca for marine critters. It may just be down to luck and compassion. While some refugees in Fukushima were forced to leave their homes, no one was tossed out of Iwaki for leaving their fish nets too far offshore.

After the tsunami, the restaurant owners knew no one. Who would want to eat Japanese seafood in this isolated and nuclear-damaged town?

“We didn’t have much food. It was really tough,” says Yoshitaka Muto, a fisherman.

“During the disaster, none of the fish was near the power plant. There weren’t a lot of people who know about this,” he adds.

He went to fishermen who worked at the plant who said, “Good thing you live here, because fish was killed on your ground.”

Soon the streets of Iwaki were thronged with food trucks and fish trucks that specialized in the best of fresh seafood. Dozens of restaurants opened up in the industrial park that developed since the plant meltdown.

Some of the most popular restaurants are the last ones left standing. Jeijohei, located only three kilometers from the nuclear plant, is one of them. The owners are dying to get into the fishing business but face delays in applying for a license.

According to Environment Minister Maruya Sakima, the government is considering reopening the Fukushima plant. This would be the most beneficial thing for fishermen in the immediate area. But for ordinary people like Muto, it can’t come soon enough.

“I don’t think the government is going to let us fish there. But we have no choice, we have to wait for the government’s decision. But we already had our fate completely sealed before this crisis happened,” he says.

Juju Kwasa is a contributing editor for Fox News Magazine. She is a health and consumer columnist for USA Today and author of “Japan’s Big Food.”

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