Regulations on reef fish to combat poisonings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2005, 12:00am

The importation of coral-reef fish will be regulated under a government plan to combat the rising number of ciguatera poisonings, it was revealed yesterday.

In the first five months of the year, 105 people were poisoned in 33 cases, while last year a total of 65 cases affecting 247 people were reported and in 2003 just six cases affecting 27 individuals.

Symptoms of ciguatera, a toxin found in fish that feed on coral reefs, include numbness, tingling, vomiting and diarrhoea. Rarely fatal, they can last several days.

A voluntary code of practice introduced among fish traders last December has been deemed unsatisfactory.

Fish traders will be required to send detailed reports of coral-reef fish to the government, detailing where they were caught, quantity, species, size and distribution channels. The information will be used to determine whether fish importers, wholesalers and retailers, will be granted import permits.

The government will discuss with the Department of Justice what penalties to impose on traders that fail to secure import permits or keep proper records, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok told legislators yesterday.

The deputy secretary for food and environmental hygiene of the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau, Eddy Chan Yuk-tak, said banning certain species would be economically unfeasible, as coral-reef fish - such as garoupa, one of the city's most popular dishes - make up about 70 per cent of fish sold here.

His department was creating a database that would highlight areas where ciguatera-affected fish were found, he said. Consumers would be advised to avoid buying or eating fish from those areas and import licences would not be issued to traders for fish from those regions.