Japan: Fugu come to the rescue of fishermen hurt by nuclear plant meltdown

by Eurofish
Puffer fish

Fugu has been consumed in Japan since 200 BC. It is estimated that the Japanese eat about 10,000 tonnes of fugu every year, and about 20 people a year get poisoned from it. Fugu is the only dish that cannot be served to the Emperor of Japan, and it is also banned in the European Union.

A famously deadly fish is saving the financially struggling fishermen of the Japanese prefecture Fukushima, site of the disastrous nuclear energy plant meltdown in 2011 caused by an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami. The impact on the fishing industry in following years was huge. At the Matsukawaura port, 50 kilometres north of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, fisheries landings quickly dropped by 80% from pre-2011 levels. In the years since the plant meltdown, fishermen in the area have been subject to tight restrictions and consumers have shied away from locally produced food of all types over fears of contamination. 


But one population is arriving at fishing docks in hordes: tiger puffer, or fugu (Takifugu rubripes), the seafood delicacy that is deadly if improperly prepared, requiring chefs to be trained and licensed in the skill to cut away the liver and certain other toxic organs in the fish. Globally warming seas have driven fugu northward, and they are filling the fishing grounds off Fukushima. At the same time, catch restrictions have eased following testing for radiation levels, and thus the prefecture’s fugu catch has grown tenfold since 2019. Boat crews at Matsukawaura regularly unload buckets overflowing with fugu, whereas a few years ago there were very few landed in the port.

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