Is It Safe To Eat Hawaii’s Fish?

We received a generous offer from a close family friend early Sunday morning. He and his fishing buddy caught two onos over the weekend and he wanted to know if we wanted fresh fish for dinner.

Normally I wouldn’t think twice. In fact, when it comes to fish, I’m usually halfway down the street before the phone conversation ends. But this time I have to admit, I hesitated. I found myself having a bizarre conversation with myself.

“Is it safe to eat?”

What kind of question is that? Of course it is. Then why did I visualize the word radiation? Silly, I know. But I also know I’m not alone.

Ever since University of Hawaii researchers Jan Hafner and Nikolai Maximenko announced projections that debris from the March 11 tsunami would reach Hawaii in about two years, island residents have been asking more questions about what’s really in our ocean and if it’s safe to eat the animals that call it home.

Hafner and Maximenko recently shared their models of how destroyed homes, cars and other debris from Japan will swiftly move across the Pacific Ocean, reaching Hawaii in two years and the Mainland U.S. in three years. They believe the debris will drift into what’s often called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” that sits to the northeast of our island chain. The garbage is expected to continue to reach Hawaii’s shorelines for another five years.

“It’s unprecedented, in terms of the composition of the debris,” says Hafner, who adds that computer models show tons of debris have already moved a few hundred miles away from Japan.

Add the increasing amount of radiation leaking into the ocean every day, and you can’t blame Hawaii’s huge fish-eating population for their concerns. After all, many of us eat some form of seafood several times a week. If your home is anything like ours, sashimi or some form of poke is on the dinner table at least twice a week.

On April 16, the Japanese government announced that levels of radioactivity in the ocean near the Fukushima nuclear plant had risen significantly. A spokesman from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the level of radioactive iodine-131 rose to 6,500 times the legal limit, up from 1,100 times over the limit the day before. Levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137 rose nearly fourfold.

What does that mean? Well, if you live in Sendai Bay or Tokyo Bay, chances are the fish and shellfish are not safe to eat. Marine experts say the contaminated water from the Fukushima plant will likely be contaminated for several years … in the immediate area.

But is the ocean life in Hawaiian waters safe to eat?

Marine experts have repeated time and again, the size and currents of the Pacific Ocean will disperse and dilute the radioactivity to minute, harmless levels. And while fisheries are not operating near the Fukushima plant, Hawaii’s fisheries are safe and will continue to be safe.

It is true ocean plant life like seaweed and shell-fish can absorb radiation and further introduce it into our food chain. But according to one of the world’s leading marine experts, Dr. Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre, “unless far greater quantities are released over the very long term, the danger is likely to be low and mainly confined to the area near the leak.”

In other words our ahi, aku, oama and even our ono are safe to eat, until further notice.

We ate pork chops Sunday night, but guess what was on the menu Monday?