Is there any standard emergency procedure from AVA?

dead fishes

By now, most would have been aware of the mass fish death at the coastal fish farms at Pasir Ris. The fishes in the fish farms had started dying from 16 February and persisted till the point where fish farmers saw almost all their fish stocks die off.

In response to this incident, Minister of State for Defence and National Development, Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman spoke in parliament stating that the loss by fish farmers was about 600 tonnes.

Mr Philip Lim, a fish farmer and Chairman of Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative in an interview with TOC, said that apart from not taking early precaution to help minimise the loss of fish farmers, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) also failed to take preventive measures to ensure the safety of fish supply for the consumption by general public.

No marine biotoxins detected?

AVA had earlier said in a statement that post-mortem of fish samples collected from the affected farms indicated the fish had died as a result of gill damage caused by a kind of plankton.

AVA added that these are micro-organisms are found in seawater and they bloomed or multiply quickly in a very short time, draining the seawater of oxygen. AVA also declared that there were no marine biotoxins detected in the waters to have caused the death.

Mr Lim noted that AVA does not have an in-house marine biologist and asked which 3rd party laboratory which AVA is basing their report on.

In the laboratory test commissioned by TODAY, it is said that the species of algae behind the mass fish deaths off Pasir Ris likely belongs to the Gymnodinium group according to the experts at DHI Water & Environment.

Gymnodinium mikimotoi, also known as Karenia mikimotoi, is not toxic to humans, but has been associated with massive kills of wild and farmed fishes in Japan and Korea.

It is said that for decades, these species of algae have resulted in devastating marine life mortalities, yet the toxin mechanism and principles are poorly understood. It is noted that the toxin extracted from shellfishes during such bloom is able to produce a quick kill in both mice and fish, but was less toxic than brevetoxins.

The experts engaged by TODAY said that the exact species can only be confirmed through further genetic tests.

Mr Lim did his own investigation into the death of the fishes on the 20 February and recorded the above video of the algae which was found abundant in the seawater.

In comparison, the algae is indeed similiar to Karenia mikimotoi.

Photo by S. Yoshatsu and H. Takayama

In an interview with Channel 8, Mr Chan Wei Loong, Head of Department in Marine Science and Aquaculture of Republic Polytechnic said that fishes will remain unsafe for consumption if death is caused by poisoning, even if the fish is thoroughly cooked.

In addition, if the fishes are collected to be sold when they are dead, micro-organism may find its way into the fish bodies and produce toxins which cannot be removed through cooking.

Dead fish disposed of and not allowed for sale

Recently on 5 March, AVA reacted to an email which warned people not to eat locally farmed fish and claiming that the recent mass fish deaths were caused by ciguatoxins.

AVA stated that the email is a hoax.

AVA said, “Our laboratory tests on fish samples collected from affected fish farms show that no marine biotoxins were detected. Dead fish are also disposed of and not allowed for sale.”, stressing that locally farmed fish are safe for consumption.

But according to the video that Mr Lim had shot on 28th February, workers from one of the fish farms are shown loading fish stocks on shore at Changi jetty. Mr Lim estimated the amount of fishes to be around 100 tonnes. At this point, most of the fishes at the fish farms are said to have died from the Hazardous Algae Bloom (HAB).

Pointing to the similar mass fish death incident which took place last February, he noted that AVA had immediately issued letters to fish farmers on the day when the fishes started dying. AVA’s instruction to the fish farmers was that no fishes can be sold until laboratory results show that the fishes are safe.

However, this year was different from last year.

Mr Lim said, “There was no instructions from AVA not to sell the fishes. In fact there were a couple of fish farms which had sold their fishes when the fishes started dying. Some of us did not want to do that because of our concern about safety.”

Mr Lim pointed out when AVA first said that it warned fish farmers on the 16 February about the algae bloom, it most likely did not have an idea of what was causing the death of the fishes. Furthermore, AVA would take a week or so to confirm the cause of death and the type of algae of the algae bloom.

“It is a serious matter. AVA is not putting the public’s interest as priority.”, said Mr Lim, stating that AVA should have stopped the fish farmers from selling the fishes at the point the fishes started dying as it has not determine the seriousness of the matter.

“Apart from fishes, shellfishes such as mussels should be prevented from being sold as such seafood is likely to accumulate the toxin that is in the water.” added Mr Lim.

“Why is it that the industrial fish farmers can offload their fish stocks when such things happen? Is it just because to meet AVA’s KPI (key performance index)?”

Mr Lim said that he is not saying that the fishes must be poisonous but there must be an emergency procedure set in place by AVA in event of such biological catastrophe. Just like in the management of the outbreak of SARS, all poultry are culled irregardless of whether the virus is detected in the birds.

And not like in this case where AVA decided that it was ok to assume situation to be the best of the worst.

TOC has sent enquries on the above issues to AVA since 2nd March and has yet received any replies. We will include the replies when they reply.