“I don’t know, when customers ask안전놀이터 me, I tell them that it’s safe, that it’s all tested, but honestly, don’t you know that feeling of reluctance? I can’t even feed my own children right now… I wish the government would be more proactive in creating protective measures and providing correct information so that I can eat with confidence.”

The fish market in Noryangjin, Dongjak-gu, Seoul, on Nov. 22, when a government inspection team was scheduled to check the process of discharging contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The mood among the vendors was tense. When a customer pointed to a scallop labeled “Made in Japan” and asked, “Are you sure it’s okay?” the vendors scrambled to answer. “Of course it’s okay,” they said, and some even added a bonus, while others tried to avoid the customer’s eyes and suggested that they were made in Russia. “It’s frustrating that we have to look at customers when we’re not guilty of anything,” said Kim Mo, a vendor in her 50s. “We make a living, and it’s bitter that we’re not even considered by the government or Japan, who are on the front lines of our livelihood.”

Public concern over the safety of seafood has been growing as the Japanese government prepares to begin releasing contaminated water from Fukushima in July. Contaminated water from the plant was used to cool melted nuclear fuel during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and Japan plans to clean it up and dilute it with seawater before releasing it. However, the contaminated water contains various radioactive substances, raising concerns about the inevitable contamination of seafood.

“If contaminated water is discharged, customers will stop coming regardless of whether the products are contaminated or not,” said a vendor at a seafood market, adding, “No matter how safe the procedures are, it is inevitable that sales will drop due to psychological rejection.”

They are not alone in their anxiety. There are precedents. In 2013, when the Fukushima nuclear power plant leaked contaminated water, domestic seafood production and sales plummeted by more than 460 billion won from the previous year. In recent years, sales of mud crabs have also plummeted due to rumors circulating online that “mud crabs from Fukushima are being sold. The Mungae Suha Fishery Cooperative explained that this year’s production of mungae has increased significantly compared to last year, but it has not been circulated for consumption, so it has launched a massive discount sale.

Japanese seafood products on sale at Noryangjin Fish Market in Dongjak-gu, Seoul.

“In 2013, we lost a lot of money even though it was a temporary and sudden accident, but if they openly discharge polluted water, we may have to consider going out of business,” said one trader.

There are already signs of trouble. While consumption of seafood usually declines as summer approaches, the time has come even earlier. “Since May, customers have been asking us a lot of questions about whether the fish is Japanese or not,” said Jimo, a vendor. “The number of customers is gradually decreasing, so we’re deliberately putting it on the back burner, but all we can say is, ‘It’s fine.

The vendors called on the government to take a more active role in protecting fishermen. “There has been a plan for the release since two years ago, but I feel that nothing is being done,” said Lim Mo, a vendor. “From the fall, there will be a direct impact on sales that will be far worse than now. If we can’t stop the release right now, I hope we can come up with an alternative so that consumer anxiety doesn’t lead to a boycott of seafood.”

As fishermen’s anxiety grew, the Korea Federation of Fishermen’s Associations formed the ‘Japan Nuclear Contaminated Water Countermeasures Committee’ on the 17th, with the participation of regional union heads and fisheries organizations, to strengthen the safety management system for seafood. It is also preparing standards for the designation of accredited testing laboratories in the field of radiation by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

“If the discharge of contaminated water is forced, seafood consumption is expected to plummet, so we are discussing support measures to minimize damage to fishermen,” said an official from the Fishermen’s Cooperative Association. “In June, we will collect opinions from fishermen across the country and deliver a voice to the government and the National Assembly urging them to take preemptive damage measures.”

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