The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to start testing fish off the coast of British Columbia for the presence of radiation stemming from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan earlier this year.
The agency has not yet released any specific details on the testing program, but did say it expects the test results to be well below Health Canada's actionable levels for radiation.
Fisheries activist Alexandra Morton with the Raincoast Research Society says she supports the testing, but calls the announcement a political move. Morton says millions of sockeye have started returning to the Fraser River and the fishing season is already well underway.
Salmon are a particular concern to Morton and others because their wide-ranging migration patterns can take them right across the Pacific Ocean to the coast of Japan.
"If they were actually concerned about the health of people and the fish, they would have started this actually at the beginning of the commercial openings. But to release this two days before the disease hearings at the Cohen inquiry, to me it's a political statement, it's a political effort to appear responsible," she said.
The Cohen Commission hearings into the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon run resumed in Vancouver earlier this week.
Morton also wants the CFIA to test farmed salmon, because she says trace amounts of radiation were detected in seaweed on the B.C. coast.
Radiation levels soared in Japan
Following the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, concentration of radioactive iodine-131 in seawater in the area soared to 1,250 times the normal figure, the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said in March.
Radiation began seeping from the plant when a magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami on March 11 knocked out its cooling systems. The contamination has made its way into milk and vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips tested in Japan.
But radioactive iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days, which means in several weeks its threat reduces to a minuscule level, according to nuclear experts.
Canadian tests found no concerns
CFIA says it tested 165 food and feed products imported from Japan after the disaster and found all were below Health Canada's levels for concern.
The agency also tested 34 samples of domestically produced milk from British Columbia and all were found safe for consumption.
Negligible levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere were also detected along the West Coast by monitoring stations following the disaster.
"The radiation levels found on the West Coast are less than the natural levels of radiation that would be detected when it rains or snows," said a statement released by the CFIA.