Fresh seafood at Tsukiji fish market in peril as record heatwave grips Japan

A file photo taken on Jan 5, 2017, shows wholesalers checking the quality of fresh tuna at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - A record heatwave has put Japan's world-famous Tsukiji fish market in a crisis in its final months at its current site at Tokyo's Chuo ward, The Japan Times reported on Saturday (Aug 11), citing a report from Jiji Press.

According to the report, the market's ageing air conditioning system has malfunctioned and cannot keep fish and seafood fresh amid high temperatures since the heatwave blanketed Japan in mid-July.

Temperatures are now reportedly as high as 18 degrees Celsius in some places in the frozen-tuna section, even in the early morning.

This has raised concerns that the quality of the fish is being compromised, the Jiji report said. Temperatures are usually kept at around 15 deg C to keep the pricey fish fresh.

Wholesalers are forced to store frozen tuna in trucks with powerful freezing equipment until the auction site opens at 4.30am (3.30am Singapore time).

After the tuna are laid out for sale, they are covered with sheets to help keep them frozen for a longer time. Cardboard boxes are also being stacked near the market's entrances to help keep the cool air in, Jiji said.

Market wholesalers say most of the fish handled in the place are kept in styrofoam boxes filled with ice, but the ice melts quickly on very hot days, resulting in sellers having to refill fresh ice throughout the day during market hours.

One wholesaler told Jiji the amount of ice his company has used to chill the fish had "nearly doubled" this month compared with the previous year.

However, despite the current conditions, it is not practical to renovate the open-air facility and replace the air conditioners as the market will soon move to its new premises in the adjacent Toyosu district on Oct 11.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said in February the process of moving the market to Toyosu is on track, Agence France-Presse reported.

Plans to move Tsukiji, which opened in 1935, have been in the works for years, and the relocation was originally scheduled for 2016. But a myriad of delays have set back the timeline, including the discovery of soil contamination at Toyosu, the site of a former gas plant.

Tokyo officials later said the contamination has been remedied.

The new market boasts modern sanitation and refrigeration control, a leap forward from the current open-air, dilapidated Tsukiji market.

Japan suffered a deadly heatwave of record proportions this summer, Washington Post said. More than 57,000 people have been hospitalised with heatstroke, with more than 120 deaths in the three months through the end of July, according to Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

The country is even considering implementing daylight savings time in 2019 and 2020 to cope with the intense summer heat, after soaring temperatures this year cast doubt over its ability to safely host the 2020 Olympics.

Tsukiji's struggle is expected to continue because weather forecasters have warned the public to prepare for further spells of scorching weather.

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