Penang probes death of 50,000 fish

A fishermen inspects nets damaged by wood and iron waste in Teluk Bahang earlier this year.

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government is investigating a fish breeder’s complaint that his entire stock of more than 50,000 at a farm off Teluk Bahang died last Sunday morning in an incident similar to one that happened three months ago.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said a task force had been set up to map all waterways and collect baseline data in the state. The data would allow tests to be compared when cases of pollution or dead fish crop up.

Phee told FMT state officials could not explain what caused Sunday’s incident.

“We can only make hypotheses,” he said. “We have checked the entire Teluk Bahang area and found nothing that could possibly have contributed to this.”

In May, researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia found higher-than-usual levels of metal in the same waters after farmers complained of fish dying.

However, a follow-up study by the Department of Environment found that the metal levels were within acceptable limits. It also found no industries in the town which could have caused the levels to be higher than usual.

A dossier by the department showed that the pH parameters and dissolved oxygen levels met the Malaysia Marine Water Quality Standard and Index.

The index showed the waters in the Teluk Bahang area to have recorded standards that are good for mariculture.

Phee said the most plausible explanation for Sunday’s incident was the freak storm on Friday.

“We had dry weather for a very long time,” he said. “When it rained, there could have been a likelihood of acid rain.”

But he also said the culprits could be pesticides and fertilisers used on fish farms. Water mixed with chemicals could have been swept down by the strong wind and rain, bringing rubbish and other pollutants along, he added.

Yet another possible explanation, he said, was over-breeding of fish in a single cage.

He said the Fisheries Department had been informed of these theories and given all available scientific findings.

Phee also told FMT a fisherman had lodged a police report after he spotted a vessel discharging what appeared to be mud off the waters of Butterworth.

He said the vessel was suspected to have been dredging close to the Butterworth port and was caught on video by the fisherman.

“Since 2004, I have been bringing up concerns over seabed mining and illegal dumping along the North Channel,” he said. “I have alerted the environment ministry over the latest incident. We want to protect our inshore fishermen.”