Malta’s tuna industry may not be spared the negative consequences of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami as the world’s third largest economy now grapples with a nuclear crisis.

Tuna exports to Japan are worth between €80 million and €100 million making up the bulk of trade flowing from Malta to the far eastern country where Mediterranean blue fin tuna is a luxury.

According to Azzopardi Fisheries managing director Charles Azzopardi nobody in Japan is in the mood to discuss business for the moment.

“The Japanese company I deal with has five cold stores around the country but they are experiencing problems to operate them because electricity is being rationed,” Mr Azzopardi said.

His Japanese business counterpart cancelled a business meeting earlier this week, returning home in the wake of the disaster.

Anticipating a difficult year for the tuna industry, Mr Azzopardi said the price would probably crash given that luxury goods were less likely to be on people’s minds as concerns over the availability of staple food and the provision of shelters eclipsed everything else.

“When you see the magnitude of the tragedy that struck them it leaves you speechless. They are a hard-working people but it will take two years for the Japanese economy to recover and that is bad news for us,” Mr Azzopardi said.

His foreboding, however, was not shared by the director of Malta Fish Farming Ltd, Saviour Ellul.

“It is still too early to make an assessment of how our industry will be hit because this year’s tuna catch will make it to the Japanese market next year. We have to see how the Japanese economy will perform in 12 months’ time,” Mr Ellul said.

A similar assessment was made by Ta’ Mattew Fish Farm director Ray Bugeja, who said it was “still too early” to assess the situation.

Financial markets were edgy yesterday as the nuclear crisis in the aftermath of the tsunami risked escalating. The Japanese stock exchange, the Nikkei, shed 14 per cent amid fears the nuclear crisis would severely damage the already weakened economy.

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