Tue, Jan 04, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Tainan milk-fish industry devastated by cold weather


Several days of low temperatures have caused damage to the aquaculture sector in southern Taiwan. The population of milk fish in Tainan County has been reduced by 30 percent, and the situation could lead to NT$23.6 million in financial losses, local officials said yesterday.

Last week, low temperatures of between 5?C and 6?C in the south killed off scores of milk fish in aquatic farms throughout the county. According to local authorities, as of yesterday the total area of affected fish farms has reached 715 hectares. In addition, 457 tonnes of dead fish had to be removed and treated immediately in a bid to avoid environmental pollution.

Accompanied by agricultural officials and Tainan County Councilor Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲), Tainan County Commissioner Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智) inspected a district of milk fish farms in Peimen Township and examined the dead fish floatingon the surface of the water.

According to one farmer, Tu Jen-kuei (涂壬貴), about one-fourth to one-third of 100,000 milk-fish fries he raised since last August have died in the past few days. Tu said he expected that the damage would be exacerbated when the next cold front arrived in Taiwan. After speaking to Tu, Su and the other officials went to coastal farms, which raise both milk fish and clams, in Yunlung Village.

There are about 17,000 hectares of aquaculture farms in the county. In terms of milk fish, 5,164 hectares of fish farms produce about 10,764 tonnes of fish annually. Most milk-fish farms are located in coastal townships, such as Chiku, the lagoons of which are also wintering sites for endangered black-faced spoonbills.

Su and the other officials estimated that about 30 percent of the milk fish in the farms had died. This means about 3,000 tonnes of dead milk fish are awaiting removal and treatment.

"However, total financial losses have not exceeded NT$200 million, the threshold for receiving compensation from the central government. We will file a report soon to ask for a special relief fund to address the damage," Su said.

Agricultural officials said that the price for 600g of milk fish is about NT$40, and the recent cold fronts have put fish farmers in a quandary. Huang, who was elected to the legislature last month, said the Council of Agriculture (COA) had to offer relief funds for the farmers prior to the arrival of Lunar New Year early next month.

In addition, to avoid environmental pollution, Su said that the county also needs special assistance to chemically treat the abundant dead fish, which can hardly be used for any useful purpose.

Officials said yesterday that the removal of dead fish was especially crucial to prevent a botulism outbreak among the black-faced spoonbill population.

In December 2002, 73 black-faced spoonbills in Chiku died after being infected with the C. botulinum toxin. Experts said toxins in rotten fish contributed to the epidemic.

Meanwhile, a real-time water-quality monitoring system has been established in the lagoon in Chiku to transfer data to the local environmental bureau. Once the water quality changes, environmental officials will immediately notify conservation groups and volunteers to inspect the sites to check on the spoonbills' activities.

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