Fake news affecting livelihoods of fisherfolk

PETALING JAYA: Following the release into the sea last month of wastewater from Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, a slew of alarming stories about a recent fish die-off along the shore of Teluk Bahang in Penang have emerged.

Despite scientists verifying that the fish fatalities do not have anything to do with radiation, misinformation – including old, unrelated videos – continues to flood social media and has affected domestic seafood sales.

Kuala Lumpur Hoi Seong Fish Wholesalers Association president Sing Kian Hock said the business has been severely impacted since early this month, with sales plummeting by 20% to 30%.

He noted that fishmongers nationwide are also feeling the effects.

“We are a wholesale market, and vendors from all over come here to purchase seafood for sale at local markets. Over the past two weeks, all our vendors, whether from morning or night markets, have experienced a decline in business,” he said.

“Vendors are reducing their purchases from us and many customers are showing us videos of people falling ill after consuming fish, asking us if its true.”

Sing said people are asking him, “Is it wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant causing the fish to die? Is it safe to consume fish?”

Some vendors, who used to sell 300kg of seafood daily, are now struggling to sell between 150kg and 180kg a day, he said.

Fishs that have seen a drop in sales include black pomfret, grouper and narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (ikan tenggiri batang).

Malaysia Fish Industries General Association president Chia Tian Hee voiced concerns about the impact of inaccurate social media videos on fishermen’s livelihoods.

“We fear that these rumors could spread, leading to a surplus of seafood,” he said, adding that the government must strive to clarify the situation.

Sang Yeow Seng, a fish trader from Melaka, reported a decline in his business over the past week.

He attributed it to reduced demand due to social media rumours about fish deaths in Penang, including through the circulation of old videos.

“Many customers have asked me and I can only advise them to make their own judgment.

“I cannot fully convince customers that eating the fish is entirely safe.

“I also supply seafood to suburban market vendors and in recent days, they have been inquiring about the safety of our country’s seafood,” he added.

“However, not all seafood is unsellable; there is still high demand for some small fish,” he added.

Japan’s decision to release massive amounts of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant that had been damaged in a 2011 tsunami sparked a lot of anxiety globally.

So when thousands of fish were found dead along Teluk Bahang’s shore on Aug 29, there were concerns about local seafood.

However, the fish die-off was due to an algae bloom causing oxygen depletion.

Scientists have confirmed that the algae, Noctiluca scintillans, is not a threat beyond being an irritant and that fish caught in waters around Penang are still safe to eat.

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