Radioactive fish?

Asked August 21, 2018, 7:08 PM EDT

Radioactive fish? I would like to know if the halibut off of the Oregon coast is safe to eat? I’ve heard it could be contaminated with radioactivity from The nuclear plant in Japan.

Multnomah County Oregon food safety radiation seafood safety

1 Response

Thank you for your question about the potential impacts to US west coast fisheries from the release of radioactive isotopes from the Fukushima Dai-ichi into the ocean.
Overall, there is very little concern that radiation levels will pose a threat to human health on the US West Coast, and you can continue to eat wild caught fish, including Pacific halibut, with confidence.

I found one study that examined radiation levels of Pacific halibut off British Columbia, Canada. This study is applicable to our situation on the Oregon Coast because Pacific halibut undertake large migrations along the U.S. West Coast, Canada, and Alaska and these fish are considered to be one population. They found no detectable levels of the type of radioactive isotope associated with the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and concluded that for an adult who consumes 50 kg of fish per year, the assumed worst-case dose from potential exposure would be less than 1/1000th of the annual natural background radiation dose in Canada and of no health concern. If you would like to read the original study, it can be found at this link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4312420/

Other researchers in Canada found extremely low levels of radioactive Cesium in salmon during initial testing of 20 fish caught in rivers in BC and Yukon Territory, but are not concerned about health impacts and have no plans to close any fisheries. You would need to eat between 2000-3000 pounds of king salmon at that concentration to recieve the same radiation dose you would get during a single cross country flight. More recent testing on over 400 salmon samples from the same area has not detected any radioactivity.

OSU researchers also found trace amounts of radioactivity in albacore tuna caught off Oregon, but you would have to consume 700,000 pounds of fish just to match the average person's annual exposure to radiation in everyday life from cosmic rays, the air, the ground, x-rays and other sources.

It is true that these two radioactive isotopes (Cesium-137 and Cesium-134) released from the Fukushima reactors have been detected in offshore waters near the US West Coast. However, to put that into perspective, the highest measured nearshore samples on the West Coast are more than 1000 times lower than the US Government safety limits for drinking water (7,400 Bq/m3), and well below limits for direct exposure while swimming or boating.

Overall though, there is very little concern that radiation levels will pose a threat to human health on the US West Coast.

Additional Background info:
Two Cesium (Cs) isotopes were released from Fukushima, one which decays quickly (Cs137) and when detected means that the radioactivity can be traced back to Fukushima. The other isotope decays more slowly (Cs134) and is found at background levels in the environment from nuclear testing in the 1950's and 1960's.

There is evidence that radioactive materials are still being released from the Fukushima reactors in very low levels, and US researchers are continuing to monitor the radioactivity off West Coast waters. Ken Buesseler, one of the leading researchers on radioactive ocean chemistry said, “Levels today off Japan are thousands of times lower than during the peak releases in 2011. That said, finding values that are still elevated off Fukushima confirms that there is continued release from the plant."

I have included a few links below in case you would like more information. Please feel free to get back in touch if you would like more clarification or have additional questions on this topic.

This is a link to the NOAA-FDA-EPA fact sheet, and also to the NOAA Seafood Inspection website. http://www.seafood.nmfs.noaa.gov/NOAA_FDA_EPA.pdf

There are a few good resources to look for the most recent testing information on the West Coast of Canada and the US:
Fukoshima InFORM: https://fukushimainform.ca/
This website has information about current testing of water and biological organisms in Canada.

This website has current test results for water samples. You can look for 2018 samples, highlighted in Red on the map. For example, a sample was taken at in the surf at Winchester Bay, OR on June 6, 2018. They could not detect the Fukushima radioactive isotope (Cesium 134), and the Cesium isotope found from other sources (Cesium 137) was detected at 3.9 Bq/m3, a level almost 1900 times lower than the US action level for drinking water (7,400 Bq/m3)

-Amanda G.