A Hong Kong ban on Japanese seafood, which goes into effect at midnight, will not be lifted until tests conducted by the government and third-party testing prove that products from the affected ten prefectures are safe after the release of radioactive waste into the ocean, environment officials have claimed.

The Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department will increase its efforts starting on Thursday to test the seafood that is caught within Hong Kong waters for radioactivity on a regular basis rather than every month. The Observatory will be monitoring the levels of radiation in seawaters more often, examining once per month instead of every quarter.

With Japan scheduled to begin discharging treated radioactive waters from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant to the sea this Thursday, Hong Kong authorities gazetted an order outlining the sorts of aquatic products that will be restricted, including frozen, chilled, live preserved, dried, and frozen products, seaweed, and sea salts from 10 prefectures.

Representatives from the catering industry claim that the sales of Japanese seafood have declined due to concerns about safety. Photo: May Tse

The government stated in the gazette that the steps were designed in order to “prevent or reduce the possibility of danger to public health” since there was no certainty about the effect of radionuclides on food chains because the unprecedented discharge could last for 30 to 40 years or more.

The city is among the largest markets in Japan for exports of fisheries. In response to a question about how long the ban will remain in place, the Permanent Secretary of Environment and Ecology, Vivian Lau Lee-kwan, stated: “I don’t think [lifting it] will happen too soon.”

The authorities will be monitoring the operation of the wastewater treatment system as well as the statistics from the Japanese side of the sea near the power plant.

Hong Kong to ban Japanese seafood from 10 prefectures in the Fukushima plant.

“Some have asked if it’s enough to trust data supplied by Japan. Certain experts have suggested that, in order for their data to be persuasive to other countries and other countries, the Japanese government might look into third-party participation and the verification of their data,” Lau told a press briefing about the ban.

Tokyo will release 1.32 million tons, or the equivalent of 500 Olympic swimming pools, of radioactively treated water over the next 30 years. This is raising concerns in the region over the long-term impact on the food chain of the ocean.

The order, promulgated Wednesday afternoon, bans the importation and supply of products from the aquaculture industry that are harvested, made, processed, or packed on or after Thursday.

Importers of products made of seafood from 10 prefectures are subject to a HK$100,000 (US$13,000) penalty and a year’s jail time.

Condiments like soy sauce and oyster sauce are not included because they are “not defined as aquatic products,” Centre for Food Safety controller Christine Wong Wang noted.

Officials also confirmed that residents who return from Japan may still be able to bring back the “small amount” of goods as souvenirs. In contrast, the neighboring city of Macau has announced that it will be increasing security measures to stop travelers from bringing goods that are from 10 of the prefectures.

The Macau ban encompasses a greater range of foods made in Japan that includes dairy and animal products as well as seafood and fruits, fruits, seafood seaweed, and poultry, as well as meat and eggs from 10 prefectures, as per the Macau Municipal Affairs Bureau.

Lau claimed that she believed the Hong Kong government aimed to regulate suppliers and importers as well as buying agents in cases where commercial sales of these products were a danger to the health of the population.

“We wouldn’t advise the public to buy products from the 10 prefectures for their own use or give away to friends and family,” she added.

Hong Kong experts warn about the possibility of contamination in Japanese seafood coming from the Fukushima plant.

Hong Kong is Japan’s second-largest market for exports of fisheries and exports, with the mainland of China being the biggest. In 2022, Hong Kong was importing Japanese seafood products valued at around 75.5 billion yen (US$536 million), which accounted for over 20 percent of the total Tokyo marine exports, data from the government showed.

Authorities have said they evaluated 10,357 samples of food products from Japan in the middle of June, half of which was seafood. Since then, they have expanded the scope of testing to include all marine items from Japan.

The ban on imports will be applied to the states that include Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano, and Saitama.