Photo: Despite Fukushima, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe

Take a precautionary approach: eat seafood caught locally and sustainably. (Credit: Timmy Corkery via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Theresa Beer

Following Japan's devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, fear spread about risks of leaked radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — for the health of those living in or near Fukushima or involved in cleanup efforts, and for the planet and the potential impacts on our complex marine food web.

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Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters radioactive water has likely been leaking into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster hit. It's the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed, according to one report. With 300 tonnes of contaminated water pouring into the sea every day, Japan's government finally acknowledged the urgency of the situation in September.

Social media is now abuzz with people swearing off fish from the Pacific Ocean. Given the lack of information around containment efforts, some may find this reasonable. But preliminary research shows fish caught off Canada's Pacific Coast are safe to eat.

It will take about three years from the time of the incident for the radiation plume to reach the West Coast, which would be early next year. Recent testing of migratory fish, including tissue samples collected from Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the California coast, assessed radiation levels and potential effects on marine food webs far away from Japan. Trace amounts of radioisotopes from the Fukushima plant were found, although the best available science puts them at levels below those naturally occurring in the environment around us. Natural, or background radiation, is found in many sources, including food items, medical treatments and air travel.

The most comprehensive health assessment, by the World Health Organization, concludes radioactive particles that make their way to North America's waters will have a limited effect on human health, with concentrations predicted to be below WHO safety levels.

More reports are in the works. The UN agency charged with assessing global levels and consequences of ionizing radiation will present its findings to the UN General Assembly this month. This is where we may find answers about the amount of radioactive material released, how it was dispersed and any repercussions for the environment and food sources.

The ocean is vast and dynamic with many complexities we don't fully understand. It appears two currents off Japan's coast — the Kuroshio Current and Kurushio Extension — diluted radioactive material to below WHO safety levels within the first four months of the disaster. Eddies and giant whirlpools, some tens of kilometres wide, continue the dilution and will direct radioactive particles to coastal areas for at least two decades.

Fish from the water near the crippled plant are not faring so well. High levels of cesium-134, a radioactive isotope that decays rapidly, were found in fish samples there. Radiation levels in the sea around Japan have been holding steady and not falling as expected, further demonstrating that radiation leakage is not under control. At least 42 fish species from the immediate area are considered unsafe for consumption, and fisheries there remain closed.

New concerns continue to arise. While the initial leak contained cesium isotopes, water flowing into the ocean from the plant now appears to be higher in strontium-90, a radioactive substance that is absorbed differently. While cesium tends to go in and out of the body quickly, strontium heads for the bones.

A huge accumulation of radioactive water at the plant must be dealt with immediately. Determining the full effects of years of exposure to lower levels of radioactive contamination leaking into the ocean will take time and require continued monitoring and assessment. While Health Canada monitors radionuclide levels in food sold in Canada, and one of its studies incorporates samples from Vancouver, we need to remain vigilant and demand timely monitoring results.

Any amount of leaked radiation is harmful to the planet and the health of all species, including humans. A major release of radioactivity, such as that from Fukushima, is a huge concern, with unknowns remaining around long-term health risks such as cancers.

That doesn't mean it's unsafe to eat all fish caught on the Pacific West Coast. I'm taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they're caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider.

October 10, 2013

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May 22, 2017
11:46 AM

Since this was written in 2013 we have seen a large increase in UME’s, unusual mortality events in the Pacific.

roughly 200 tons of radioactive materials were release in the initial explosions and fires. EPA data shows that here in first link. Then in second link the scientific basis for how even “low levels” of man made readionuclides can biomagnify hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times what is in the water.

Jan 31, 2016
6:52 PM

In spite of all this hysteria about Fukushima, the chances of keeping the amount of warming to below 1.5C without nuclear power is zero. As long as coal is being burnt, there is room for both nuclear power and renewable power.

Sep 04, 2015
6:40 AM

It’s been months now since others have asked for an update on this article — are our fish still safe to eat? When might we hear from you? Do you ever answer any of these comments?

Thank you.

Jun 25, 2015
12:40 PM

I live in Alaska, eat red salmon, and have been told that samples of this year’s catch have been 150 CPM on a screening meter.

The safe limits are often based on Bq/kg, is there a cross reference for screening utilizing CPM (presumably caused by Cesium 137)?

Thank you.

Jun 01, 2015
12:35 PM

I’m wondering if there is any updated information on the safety of Pacific seafood since this article was originally posted? It’s pazt the time now that he says the fallout should be reaching our shores I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to see an update.

May 15, 2015
11:37 AM is a website from Portland, OR which is measuring levels of contaminants from the Fukushima. We have our own Fukushima designed 31 year old nuclear plant operating at the Western end of the Hanford nuclear waste site Reservation on the Columbia. It is electric producing and is presently shut down for maintenance and refueling. However, Energy Northwest is asking for an exemption on its cracking problems from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It also has several major issues which the NRC has already required Energy NW to prove that the physical structure of the plant can withstand present earthquakes. It does NOT at this time. Another Fukushima where the national nuclear waste site has been leaking for years and is uncontrollable? Not a pretty picture.

Jan 31, 2015
11:24 AM

Hi David, are you still eating Pacific Coast fish? Has there been any update to the effects of Fukushima and the radiation on our Pacific Northwest fish?

Oct 02, 2014
10:27 AM

I hope everyone knows this was written in 2013 october.

Sep 06, 2014
12:32 PM

Given 350,000 tons per day which is 700,000,000 pounds (2000 pounds per ton) and that one gallon is 8.33 pounds so 700mil / 8.33 = 84,033,613 gallons of radioactive wastewater per day, 58,357 gallons per minute. Now there are 7.48 gallons per cubic foot, which calculates to 11,234,440 cubic feet of radioactive wastewater per day. This footage becomes a single cubic of 223.9669 feet wide X 223.9669 feet long X 223.9669 high. There are 5,280 feet per mile. It takes 23.5749122 days for a one mile long, 223.9669 feet wide, 223.9669 feet deep area of wastewater. It takes 555.7764852 days or 1.522675302 years for one square mile at 223.9669 feet deep. The distance from Japan to Seattle is 4,800 miles. It takes 310.026242 years for 223.9669 feet wide, X 223.9669 feet deep to stretch 4,800 miles. We’re talking about maximum concentration of wastewater, the concentration that would kill you almost instantly if not sooner. The dilution ratios I do not know, meaning I do not know how many gallons are required to dilute one gallon of concentrated contamination to innocuous levels.

Aug 25, 2014
12:03 PM

I don’t think any one could take a situation of pure horror and write it so sweetly, I noticed the cancer clinics and wards are over flowing more every year, and myself and my two sisters and one brother are part of them,.. the discovery of the nuculear gene will eventually kill us all, and it don’t take a scientist too see it , most normal people that can read write and think are not stupid, ,its all just a by product of corporateism and greed and coruption , and the bankers stock market the nuculear lobby and, the bomb makers , and war mungers ect , pure evil and either corrupt or very dumb politicians.

Aug 18, 2014
5:53 AM

Dear Doctor Suzuki, would you personally be comfortable eating Pacific seafood and serving it to your family at this stage (late August, 2014)?

May 12, 2014
7:07 AM

I have been searching for is whether fish imported from Japan to Canada are within safe levels. I see so many Japanese restaurants in Toronto highlighting their Japanese imported fish as selling features. From my last search attempt, the government reduced its radiation import screening back to its previous level.

Apr 23, 2014
8:40 AM

Another fear invoking article from a green lunatic meant to scare the masses into submission. Unfortunately for the green lunatics it will only erode what little credibility they have when yet another doomsday prediction fails to come to fruition.

Apr 14, 2014
8:33 PM

Is or can anyone doing anything about this?

Mar 11, 2014
2:52 PM

Very interesting article. I would really like to see more on the issue, especially in light of the recent decision by our Conservative government to NOT do testing on B.C. wildlife for the effects of the Fukushima radiation pollution.

Feb 25, 2014
12:38 PM

I love the comments to this post.

Why wait for the truth to come out when the data is in when you can panic now and hide in a bunker in North Dakota?

This story is published by the same people who are also accused of fishing for sparse grant money by their “alarmist global warming talk.” So they’re either alarmist panic mongers corrupted by trifling amounts of grant money (instead of the stupendous amounts on offer from oil, gas, and coal companies), or they’re sucking the corporate teat of Highlander and downplaying the public’s well-deserved panic.

So, you’re all about protecting your kids from the easy choices like whether or not you buy fish from the Pacific or Atlantic, but not the hard ones like riding a bike to work? That’s rather enlightening.

Jan 11, 2014
12:02 PM

Awesome article and site David! I just purchased a “higher-end” geiger counter here in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, to take a personal step in being informed for my family and kids.. I’m doing timed counts and logging all CPM’s on a spreadsheet, from locations to food to water/rain water.. Glad to pass on all testing results.. Keep up the good work!!

Jan 11, 2014
11:43 AM

I gave up listening to Suzuki a long time ago.

Jan 10, 2014
5:13 AM

You should also be concerned about any pet foods that contain ocean fish (i.e. Pacific Salmon, etc.). Safety levels for pet foods less stringent than for human food. I will no longer feed my dogs any dog foods containing fish as I don’t know where that fish comes from and what the contamination levels are.

Jan 04, 2014
11:55 AM

you should feed the american congress, senators and other bully regulatory agencies with tonnes of seafood for 5 years. just to experiment how they might be harmful to second class humans.

Jan 02, 2014
3:35 PM

I wonder what is safer now, fish out of the Pacific Ocean, or processed food filled with GMO corn and hormones and chemicals and……..

Jan 02, 2014
2:09 PM


and by this, i mean nuclear physics, how a Geiger counter works, what a Dosimeter is, how the units of CPM and sieverts work and dont believe every persons blog on the internet.. you will find with even a few hours research into the field of radiation and nuclear physics that these people are idiots.

there is no issue regarding poisoning as it stands right now.

Dec 26, 2013
12:17 PM

I’m quite concerned about the lack of information about this whole topic. I was offered a job near LA, close to the ocean, and I really need to know whether it’s a good idea to move there with my four small kids, and I just can’t find any solid, reliable information.

Even Mr. Suzuki’s article seems to imply “it might be ok, but it might not. We don’t know yet”. Please, someone point me to some solid information one way or the other, my future is on the line here. Cheers,

Dec 23, 2013
1:36 PM

I was just getting ready to buy dungeness crab for Christmas dinner when I was told 2nd hand of confirmed radioactivity (off the charts) of Pacific Coast crab and Europe plus others were refusing to buy it. Are there any links to this story , I have found none? I am from N. Calif.

Dec 10, 2013
2:43 PM

If you can’t trust David Suzuki, then who can you trust?

I have faith in Canada’s most trusted man.

Nov 20, 2013
6:41 AM

The fish is OK there are no dangerous levels of radiation in the atmosphere (or in planes while flying) check out the rad counter pics on Rense. Etc,etc. My question is what happens when you are proven wrong and the damage has been done to those who accepted your assurances? This is a “clear and present danger” or should I say “the” clear and present danger. The extent and severity that has been covered up by the Japanese government … And now Canada, the US and other governments. Global Warming? Yes there is much debate and todo especially since it provides an opportunity to “tax” and set up new and bogis investment opportunities which of course does not lend to it’s credibility. But this situation. Damn you should be shouting from the rooftops. Are you not one of the watchman that has been tasked to warn the people? Remember their blood is on your hands if you don’t.

Nov 06, 2013
4:18 PM

Japan have to work more to stop contaminated our oceans

Nov 03, 2013
6:09 PM

P.S. Do not eat fish out of the Pacific.

Nov 03, 2013
6:08 PM

The Pacific Ocean has been destroyed by the 400 tonnes of radioactive water released into the ocean every day, for 968 days since the start of the Fukushima disaster. It is the GREATEST ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE in recorded hisory. Where has David Suzuki been hiding for the last 960 days. His cryptic warning of the imminent danger we face from the ignition of the 1300 spent fuel rods in fuel pool #4 (Alberta, Oct. 30, 2013) is so late for the foremost canadian environmentalist that it’s laughable. His silence on this EPIC disaster has totally discredited him and all his so called environmentalism. SHAME

Nov 02, 2013
8:30 PM

I did a test of new tuna in a can vs. tuna canned prior to Fuku with a Geiger counter — recently calibrated and measures in Beta and Gamma.

The new tuna came in variously around 11 to 12 CPM (and yes, I did open the can and place the tube next to the tuna).

Surprisingly, the older tuna was a bit higher at 14 CPM.

I’ve been told by a Navy nuke tech that 300 CPM is the limit by which to be concerned. That makes sense as the legal limit for fish is 2,000 bq per kg.

Not to say that future tuna won’t be affected.

Nov 01, 2013
2:52 AM


Thank you for this article. I just read another one from Dr. Caldicott’s site…this Doctor’s information contradicts your information (about tuna and cesium levels.) Have you heard about the Stanford study on tuna?

One more thing, :) What does this mean? “…as long as they’re caught locally and sustainably….”

Thank you!

Oct 31, 2013
9:56 AM

This article downplays the actual effects of this radiation, not just to human health, but to marine life in general so much so it makes me want to yell and scream at whoever wrote it. Ok, so in 3 years when the radiation plume hits, we skip the seafood for a while and then what?? The radiation is causing a cascade effect that we probably wont be able to stop at all, and it will cause probably the biggest mass marine extinction since 300 millions years ago. That means DEAD oceans, and lots of Dead people. “Determining the full effects of years of exposure to lower levels of radioactive contamination leaking into the ocean will take time and require continued monitoring and assessment” seriously???? CANCER. We don’t need time and assessement, we need actions on this, NOW. But as long as people sit nice and snug in their fake world, and are reassured by the governments that all is well, nobody will care.

Oct 17, 2013
12:06 PM

WHO says it’s ok to eat? there is tsunami trash washing up on the beaches of vancouver island where i live regularly. maybe dilution could be considered if there wasn’t still “300 tonnes!” of radioactive waste still flowing in everyday. I believe the pacific ocean is fuk’d!

Oct 11, 2013
8:41 AM

Hmmm… And what about the Plutonium spewing into the atmosphere every minute since 2011?

Oct 11, 2013
6:28 AM

I get the feeling we have all just unwittingly become the guinea pigs in a large unprecedented experiment.

Oct 11, 2013
5:30 AM

Thank you ever so much for this article! My son and his family live on Vancouver Island and I was very concerned about this. Our “media” (with their hands tied, their eyes closed, their mouths shut) feeling “they have to” go by the too well-know “propaganda approach” “imposed” on them are sure not helping matters at all. As always, thank you for telling it as it is. Namaste

Oct 10, 2013
4:53 PM

Excellent piece from Woods Hole that puts this in perspective at

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