Fish From From Japan: Safe To Eat?

03/27/2011 08:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the wake of the Japanese tsunami, the Japanese government has emphasized that consumption of food and water would not cause an immediate health risk. Though there has been no official statement on marine life, many consumers remain concerned that fish in nearby waters may contain high levels of radiation. These concerns may be unfounded, believes sushi expert Trevor Corson, since “an ocean churning with movement and dispersal might turn out to be less of a concern than agricultural products that are exposed and stationary.” Though, there hasn’t been any radiation testing on fish in the Tsukiji market since 1954.

Beyond the fears of radiation, the northern Japan seafood market has essentially collapsed and the New York Times reports that “fishermen in the area are living in shelters, transportation to the famous Tsukiji market in Tokyo is not possible, and there is no ice to keep fish fresh.”

Consequently, sushi restaurants that typically source their products from Japan are seeking new sources, both from further south in Japan and around the globe. This practice is rather common; as sushi restaurants have become ubiquitous both in the United States and around the world, Japan is no longer the only provider for sushi-grade fish. Chef Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant in Manhattan explains, “Today fish comes from all over the world, so we’re O.K.”

Even if the fish in Fukushima are radiation-free, another serious threat is the potential “brand damage.” If people are concerned about radiation, they will not eat fish from Japan. As a result, Corson wonders if the global brand of sushi can survive the public’s perception. He argues that sushi has “been facing an existential crisis for some time” as it is far from a sustainable food choice, and already has a lot of health risks (mercury, chemical pollutants, etc.) associated with it.

The spotlight is now on the future of Japan’s fish and moreover, the future of a much-revered form of cuisine that is now forced to be up for review.