Oregon State University researchers announced Wednesday that they have discovered tiny traces of radiation from last year's Japanese nuclear reactor disaster in West Coast albacore tuna. The amount of radiation is far too small to harm people who eat the fish, they reported, and fishermen said they don't see any harm to the business.
The research team, which included scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, collected and tested fish caught off the West Coast before and after the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor to release radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean.
Researchers noted that people are exposed to low levels of radiation daily from household objects, such as microwaves or computer monitors. A consumer would need to eat 4,000 pounds of tuna in a year with the highest radiation levels for his or her exposure to rise 1 percent for the year, the OSU team said.
"We're still processing new fish, but so far the radiation we're detecting is far below the level of concern for human safety," said Delvan Neville, a graduate researcher with OSU's Radiation Health Physics program and a co-investigator on the project, in a written statement.
Albacore tuna is a $41 million business in the Pacific Northwest, and fishermen from this region caught about 10,000 tons last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Washington fishermen accounted for about 53 percent of the haul, and the remainder came through Oregon docks.
Anglers at the Port of Ilwaco said they don't expect the news will cut into business because the amount is so small.
"Everything in the ocean has some type of contaminant in it. It's such a miniscule amount that you get more radiation walking by an X-ray machine," said Milt Gudgell, owner of Pacific Salmon charters, which operates four charter tuna boats during the tourist season.
The OSU team's findings are in line with work by researchers in California, who announced in May that they had found trace radiation from Fukushima in bluefin tuna caught off the southern coast. (Bluefin tuna is not caught commercially in the Pacific Northwest.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and NOAA have jointly stated they have "high confidence" in the safety of U.S. seafood products because the radiation levels are so low.
The OSU team said its findings could unveil new information about where Pacific albacore tuna travel and how the ocean's ecosystem can be linked to events thousands of miles away.