Fraser River salmon
1:00 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Sockeye salmon in Canada to be tested for radiation from Japan

Sockeye salmon returning to Canada this year will be tested by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for radiation contamination that might be picked up in the North Pacific from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.

However, Washington state officials have no plans to test salmon specifically for radiation related to the Japanese disaster because earlier environmental testing showed so few signs of radiation that current levels in fish, if any, would be "undetectable," a spokesperson for the Department of Health said.

Canadian officials are testing because when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan failed after the earthquake and tsunami in March, highly radioactive water (about 100,000 times the normal level) seeped out, contaminating nearby water and air.

The ocean currents leaving Japan can carry the radiation and contaminate organisms. The Victoria News reported that sockeye salmon returning to the west coast of Canada "migrate far out into the Pacific, as far west as the Bering Sea," where currents from Japan overlap with the salmon routes.

CBC News reported some salmon can go as far as across the Pacific to the coast of Japan. In either scenario, the salmon could possibly pass through contaminated water or eat organisms carrying some radiation.

The CFIA called the testing a "prudent" measure, reported Victoria News, as the agency anticipates the tests "will show radiation in B.C.-caught salmon is well below levels that would prompt federal action." Air quality, milk and food products from Japan have been tested before, according to CFIA spokesperson Alice D'Anjou. "We do not expect this situation to change when fish are tested," she said.

A strange twist

CBC News reported that some believe the announcement to be political, as the Cohen Commission hearings into the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon run resumed in Vancouver earlier this month. Fisheries activist Alexandra Morton with the Raincoast Research Society says she supports the testing, but calls the announcement a political move.

"If they were actually concerned about the health of people and the fish, they would have started this actually at the beginning of the commercial openings," she said. "But to release this two days before the disease hearings at the Cohen inquiry, to me it's a political statement, it's a political effort to appear responsible," she said.

The tests for contamination will run through August and September. The results will be posted on the CFIA website when they become available.