Early in the morning, a group of women on Jeju Island get ready to dive into the ocean.
They are known as ‘Haenyeo’, or a female free-divers.
Haenyeo harvest seafood by hand for up to four hours at a time and without any breathing equipment.
Yang Young-sam who has been a Haenyeo for over half a century was saddened when Japan dropped the bombshell that it is going to dump Fukushima wastewater into the ocean.
“My heart aches. We’ve been living off the ocean ever since we were born on this island. We haven’t sold as many conches as we wanted to due to the pandemic. We can’t sell them so times are hard. If Japan releases this water, we can’t do our jobs anymore.”
This community was hit hard by a similar experience in 2011. when the radioactive water was released into the ocean after an earthquake hit Fukushima nuclear plant.
“We hardly saw any conches, abalones, and octopuses in the ocean during that period. I’m sure fishers had similar experience like us as well.”
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“The Haenyeo said they don’t want to lose this ocean. It’s not just where they work, but also their second home. And they are not the only group who feels this way.”
In the southern part of the Moseulpo Port where hundreds of fishing boats pass through, ㅡfishers are out in the ocean for more than 12 hours a day.
Their daily routine also includes sizing the fish they catch and delivering them to markets.
But local one fisher said this will change if Tokyo releases the contaminated water.
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“It will be very difficult for fishers to earn a living. The unit price of fish will go down, and the amount of fish we catch will decrease. Fishing ships will decrease as well because they won’t have any income. We have so many concerns.”
Having less seafood is expected to change people’s eating habits.
The impact will also be felt at local restaurants.
” All the fish will be delivered to the mainland, which puts many people’s health in jeopardy. We are very worried. Who will want to eat it if the contaminated water is discharged into the sea? I think it will impact people’s diets a lot.”
Although the contaminated water wouldn’t reach Jeju right away he and many other local restaurant owners hope something can be done soon.
Choi Won-jong, Arirang News, Jeju.