Fears of nuclear contagion seemingly prompted Koreans to almost halve their imports of Japanese fishery products in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in last year.

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) announced Wednesday that the country imported a total of 40,466 tons of marine products from Japan in 2011, down 47 percent from a year before.

Instead, Korea turned to Chile and Russia as inbound shipments from the two countries rocketed by 67 and 13 percent year-on-year in 2011, respectively.

”The production of Japanese marine products plummeted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident last March and Koreans also avoided them due to fears of contamination,” MIFAFF official Kim Myung-hee said.

”Such a trend is expected to continue for the time being because things aren’t likely to change in the near future either in Korea or Japan.”

In terms of overall amounts, Korea’s dependency on China, Russia and Taiwan went up due to the decreased trade with Japan.

China remained as the largest exporter of marine products to Korea last year with 316,926 tons, followed by Russia with 308,021 tons and Taiwan with 61,297 tons. The three accounted for around two thirds of Korea’s total imports in this area.

On top of nuclear contamination, concern has arisen over inflationary pressures, which have plagued Korea over the past year.

”Across the world, strong crude oil prices and other cost hikes have increased the price of seafood, weighing heavily on domestic households,” Kim said. ”The reduction of Japanese production is feared to aggravate the situation.”

Korea has boasted of stable inflation rates of less than 4 percent over the first decade of the new millennium but the figure began topping 4 percent from last year.

The government has gone all-out to bring the high rates under control to little avail because the rich liquidity and low interest rates are dubbed as culprits of the rising price index. The Bank of Korea froze the benchmark interest rate at 3.25 percent for the eighth straight month in early February.

The dilemma is that the government cannot drastically absorb liquidity or raise the interest rates due to worries that the economy will suffer jitters amid the continuing international economic downturn.

The relatively weak Korean currency and the soaring oil prices add woes to the economy as crude values hover around $120 per barrel despite the global economic weakness.

Korea Times.co.kr