Tide of fashion turns to fish-free

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 April, 1998, 12:00am

The Week Ending household is a fish-free zone, (goldfish tank excepted). Fish has never been on the menu. Nor has seafood of any other sort. It has nothing to do with principle. We have no particular sympathy for our scaly friends. We are not, as a household, herbivorous - although young Master WE is, to date, a lifelong vegetarian. He has, at five, plenty of time to change his mind. Quite simply, none of us likes the taste, never mind the smell, of fish. As for crustaceans and molluscs, stomachs have been known to do a double somersault at the mere mention.

Over the years this has occasionally been a handicap. Luckily, even seafood restaurants in Hong Kong are prepared to cater to the non-piscevore. But you get some strange looks ordering steak and chips down at the Lei Yue Mun waterfront. So embarrassing has this become at times that occasional concessions have been made. Certain marine products, particularly the completely flavourless and odourless varieties, such as cardboard garoupa and papier-mache shrimp, have been picked at with varying degrees of listlessness so as not to spoil the party - especially if one has neglected to warn a sensitive hostess well in advance that to fish, as to drugs, we just say no.

Face-saving formulae are trotted out about the voyage of discovery we have embarked on, exploring the fish world - but gingerly at first. A nibble here and there at the expensive salmon and an admission that, no, maybe we are not quite ready for that. Any chance of more of those delightful vegetables? But suddenly, our quirks have become socially acceptable. It is extraordinary how a little red tide can be so liberating. Fish has been banned from tables territory-wide, just as chicken disappeared from the dinner plate during the winter.

Politically, it is true, Red tides have always been considered liberating. But we no longer talk about Reds in the late 1990s. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is much closer to the colour of capitalism, which is green (for envy and US dollars). The kind of red tide that swept down from Fujian and Guangdong provinces this spring has liberated only piscephobes like us.

But in the long run it may be no bad thing. No one in his right mind eats fish from Hong Kong waters anyway. But the evidence suggests the vast majority of the population is not in its right mind. Otherwise, there would be no fish farms within a 50-kilometre radius of Victoria Harbour.

The red tide will not only make people much more cautious about eating the flesh of the denizens of the deep - scaled or unscaled - it should make the Government and (dare one hope?) even the fish-farmers more concerned about adding to pollution in future.

It would be so comforting to believe the Government might think again about the level of investment it is prepared to put into sewage treatment, and take another look at the technologies now available for neutralising the effect on the environment of the vast quantities of organic waste Hong Kong dumps into the harbour each day. Naturally, it would help if one of the new sewer tunnels it was building to channel waste to a treatment plant on Stonecutters Island had not collapsed and brought construction squelching to a halt. But the delays should also give the administration time to think about improving the whole plan and the level of treatment to which it is prepared to commit resources.

Meanwhile, however, we fish-haters feel vindicated. True neither the meat nor the vegetables on sale here can necessarily be guaranteed safe and free of contaminants and germs. But we would rather take the risk of flu or pesticide poisoning than eat fish, thank you very much. That is our prejudice, and we are sticking to it.