The health ministry is trying to prevent damage to the fisheries industry after prices of broadbill swordfish and alfonsin, a sea bream-like species, plummeted following a ministry advisory to pregnant women to limit consumption of the fish due to their mercury content, according to ministry officials.

Demand for the two kinds of fish has fallen significantly, although the health ministry has emphasized that its June 3 advisory was only applicable to pregnant women and that the fish pose no health problems to others.

To ensure that the public understands the advisory, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has posted an explanation on its Web site.

The ministry advises pregnant women to limit their consumption of the fish to no more than twice a week due to possible harm to the fetus caused by mercury in broadbill swordfish and alfonsin.

“It is a warning for pregnant women and would be meaningless if we did not specify the kinds of fish,” a ministry official said. “Europe and the United States also make similar announcements.”

It was the first time it had issued such an advisory regarding specific kinds of fish.

“For those who make a living from alfonsin, it’s over when the fish is named (in such an advisory),” said Hiroyuki Sawada of the Choshi fisheries cooperative in Chiba Prefecture, which has a 50-ship fleet that catches the species.

The cooperative said it decided to suspend fishing for three days starting June 4, the day after the announcement, in the hope of preventing a price decline by reducing the supply. Some members of the cooperative said they are considering protesting to the ministry.

The advisory’s impact was also evident in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.

“Both the prices and the amount fell drastically,” said a 52-year-old employee at one of the stores. “The unit price for alfonsin is down 30 percent and the quantity fell by about half.”

Said one broker: “I haven’t been buying the fish since the announcement. None of my clients, such as sushi restaurants, have asked for the fish.”

Meanwhile, major supermarket chain Daiei Inc. posted temporary signs at all of its 260 stores nationwide telling customers that consumption of the fish poses no problem except for pregnant women.

In 1996, an announcement by the ministry that said radish sprouts caused a massive food poisoning of the O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria that summer proved a heavy blow to the radish sprouts industry.

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