Tsukiji fish market move to be 'no earlier than' June 2018, says Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike

Fishmongers inspecting bluefin tuna at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo on Jan 5, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Tsukiji, the ageing fish market that is also the world's busiest, will be relocated to its new waterfront site at Toyosu in June next year at the earliest, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Monday (Aug 28).

This is the first time she has publicly indicated a timeframe for the move, originally intended for November last year but thwarted over pollution concerns. At one point, toxins such as benzene were routinely detected to be at least 100 times the approved limit at Toyosu, a former gas production plant, though recent readings have improved.

Ms Koike's comments on Monday were made at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, which convened an extraordinary session for the first time in 39 years to debate a supplementary budget of 7.3 billion yen (S$90.6 million).

"We're expecting that by early June next year, the additional construction work and assessment by a panel of experts will be completed," she said. "The relocation will take place after that."

A specific date will be announced after this is ironed out with the market stallholders.

Of the sum, some 3 billion yen will be devoted to address contamination issues, including installing a new groundwater management system at Toyosu. Another 2.5 billion yen is intended to help shareholders prepare for the relocation.

The latest concerns - over mould - will also be addressed. This began spreading through Toyosu wholesale market this month after an unusually wet summer, prompting a fresh round of complaints.

The move to Toyosu will affect just the inner market of the revered 82-year-old site, which is famous for its hole-in-the-wall eateries and early morning auctions. Ms Koike said in June that it will eventually make a return in the form of a "food theme park" within five years to the current site near the Ginza shopping district.

It excludes the outer market, where a blaze that tore through seven buildings earlier this month took 15 hours to put out. The affected areas remain covered up with tarp, with "no photography" signs plastered.

Monday also marked the first time the new-look assembly has convened since Ms Koike led the Tomin First no Kai party to an overwhelming victory in polls last month, breaking the dominance of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Ms Koike, who was herself elected in July last year, was aghast at inheriting a bureaucratic mess that has seen her predecessors take flak and several Tokyo government officials punished. Of primary concern was a missing 4.5m-deep layer of fresh soil that was required to protect the new site from toxins. In its place were hollow underground spaces, where rainwater could accumulate.

Costs to build and clean up Toyosu have already exceeded 600 billion yen.

A long-time Tsukiji stallholder, who declined to be named as she was not authorised to speak with the media, told The Straits Times with a tinge of nostalgia over leaving the historic site: "After so many reports that the new site is tainted, I hope the new steps will be enough to give visitors to Toyosu the confidence that the food will be safe."

Tsukiji welcomes about 42,000 people every day. And in 2015, some 1,628 tonnes of seafood worth about 1.6 billion yen passed through Tsukiji on average each day.

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