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DEC says Alaska fish are safe to eat

Hartig: State tests for 'real risk,' not radiation

Posted: January 23, 2014 - 1:10am
Larry Hartig, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, speaks to the Senate Resources Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday. Hartig gave an overview of the department and also voiced Alaska concerns with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Larry Hartig, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, speaks to the Senate Resources Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday. Hartig gave an overview of the department and also voiced Alaska concerns with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

The Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t actively testing fish for radiation, Commissioner Larry Hartig told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

A radiation leak from a nuclear power plant in Japan after a March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami continues to worry some about whether it’s safe to eat fish from the Pacific Ocean, but Hartig said those concerns are unfounded.

Hartig said the state is relying on data and analyses from other coastal states, British Columbia and federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the safety of Alaska’s fish.

The Food and Drug Administration says that it hasn’t found any evidence to-date that dangerous levels of radionuclides are in the U.S. food supply. The EPA also says their monitoring shows no dangerous level of radiation in Pacific fish. A report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found radiation levels far below what would pose a health risk in Pacific bluefin tuna spawned off the coast of Japan around the time of the Fukushima Daiichi incident. Still, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said her constituents have come to her with concerns.

Hartig said in an interview that the department tests fish regularly, just not for radiation.

“We try to test for things that we think present real risk, like mercury,” Hartig said.

With more coastline than the continental United States, Hartig said it would be too expensive for the state to undertake a testing program that would be “statistically valid.” He said that people who claim that Alaska’s seafood is unsafe are mostly people from Outside. He said he’s concerned that people are being misinformed and aren’t taking into consideration scientific research.

“Fish in Alaska is a very important food resource; it’s a very healthy food resource,” Hartig said. “So, when I see things thrown out there, it worries me that not only will it affect our fisheries markets but also that it can affect people’s decisions on what they eat.”

Tyson Fick, spokesman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said he has the same concerns. ASMI is a marketing partnership between the state and the Alaska seafood industry. He said people who make claims that Alaska’s fish, or fish from the Pacific Ocean, are unsafe to eat are misinformed.

“If you check it against any kind of credible source, any kind of peer-reviewed science, they blow it out of the water as completely unfounded,” Fick said. “In the absence of understanding and clear science, fear rules.”

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