The government yesterday rejected calls to provide low-interest loans to Hong Kong fishermen to allow them to upgrade boats and fish in more distant waters. The proposal was contained in a consultant's report, commissioned by the government, aimed at revitalising the industry. Ingrid Yeung Ho Pui-yan, acting deputy secretary of the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau, said before a Legco panel that the loans were not feasible, citing the government's financial position and free-market policies. Representatives of nine fishing associations told the panel on food safety and environmental hygiene that they needed assistance because offshore ships cost up to $11 million. The study, released last month, found it would be 'technically feasible and financially viable' for Hong Kong fishermen to work in the East Indian Ocean, west central Pacific Ocean and Luzon Strait. The earnings of Hong Kong's 5,100 fishermen have been affected by the decline in fish numbers in the South and East China Seas. Mrs Yeung advised the fishermen to enter joint ventures with mainland or overseas partners. Legislator Choy So-yuk dismissed the suggestion, saying the future of offshore fishing 'is more certain than hi-tech industries and dot-com companies'. Meanwhile, Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Gregory Leung Wing-lup said poultry industry representatives were 'pessimistic' when they warned that chilled chickens could be passed off as fresh. Chicken farmers fear that imports of pre-slaughtered mainland chickens will affect their income. The importation of chilled chickens begins next month, as part of measures to reduce the risk of bird flu.