12/20/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Polluted waters infect China’s fish and mussel farms

China’s fishing industry is the biggest in the world. But now most of China’s waterways are too polluted and breeders are accused of using cancerous chemicals. Beijing promises stricter controls and the fish farms move further afield. Experts fear this could increase pollution.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Lack of water and increate pollution are putting the nation’s fishing industry, the world’s biggest: fish and seafood destined for the Japanese and Western markets, particularly the United States.

The industry had prospered for years, favoured by the diminishing world fish stocks and increate demand.  In 2006 China produced 52.16 billion kilogram’s of fish products, circa 70% of the world market.  Moreover it employs 4.5 million people, according to statistics from the Office for Fishing Industries.

But over 50% of waterways within China are too polluted and not safe for human use.  For years now fish farmers have been mixing illegal drugs with pesticides to keep fish alive.  But their meat absorbs these substances which are dangerous and cancerogenous.  Eel producers, for example, often used nitro furan to kill bacteria. But that antibiotic has been banned for use in animal husbandry in the United States, Europe, Japan, and even China, because it has caused cancer in laboratory rats. Chinese farmers say they have stopped using the banned medicines, and have suffered a 30 percent decline in survival rates of their fish and other seafood.

Worse still is industrial waste, such as in Guangdong, where waters are full of toxic substances: heavy metals and traces of mercury have been found in fish.

In recent years, the European Union and Japan have imposed temporary bans on Chinese seafood because of illegal drug residues. The United States blocked imports of several types of fish this year after inspectors detected traces of illegal drugs linked to cancer. By comparison, Thailand, also a major exporter of seafood to the United States, had only two refusals related to illegal veterinary drugs. China as a whole had 210 refusals for illegal drugs.

Fuqing (Fujian) is the heart of this industry, imported by immigrants returning from Japan and Taiwan.  Fish farming proved simple, (it was enough to dig a hole) and profitable.  Lin Sunbao, whose 25-year-old son is now studying at Cambridge University  in England told the New York Times “My best years were the early nineties.  I only had one aqua farm, and I earned over 500 thousand dollars a year”.

But then the textile and electrical  industries arrived in the area and now the rivers and basins have been classified as not appropriate for human use, while nearby coastal waters are full of petrol, led, mercury and copper.

Now the fish farmers have moved their farms elsewhere. But experts observe that the same gigantic fish farms dump their waste (excrement pesticides and drugs) without treating it, creating further pollution.  The fishing industry has destroyed entire mangrove forests in Thailand, Vietnam and China altering the ecological system. Oceans of seaweed have invaded water basins such as lake Tai because of the excessive amounts of nutrients n the water. 

An Taicheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences comments: “China has to go to the sea because it’s getting harder and harder to find clean water. Every year there are seafood safety problems. One day, no one will dare to eat fish from dirty water, and what will farmers do?
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