Penang seafood safe for consumption, says exco

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government today gave an assurance that all seafood from its waters are safe for consumption.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said there had been “fear-mongering” after some 50,000 fish at a fish farm in Teluk Bahang died under mysterious circumstances last weekend.

He said the Fisheries Department had given the all-clear that seafood caught in the state’s waters were safe for consumption, save for those that turned up dead at the fish farm.

Phee said the cause of death of the fish was still under investigation.

Marine researchers had noticed an algal bloom in the waters, especially in Teluk Bahang.

No other parts of the state’s waters had this type of growth.

“These algal blooms rapidly deplete oxygen levels in waters, causing fish to die, especially in shallow waters.

“This effectively causes a dead zone. Our working theory is that this is what happened in Teluk Bahang. We did not find this situation anywhere else,” he said.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, algal blooms thrive in shallow waters where sunlight can penetrate to the seabed easily.

Phee said the next move is to make sure all future fish farms operate in deeper waters as the oxygen count is naturally higher due to the fast-moving waters, making it less susceptible to algal bloom-related threats.

He said checks by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs) and the Fisheries Department found lower than usual oxygen levels, hovering between 2.25% and 3.36%, compared to the usual 8% to 10% in the algal bloom waters.

Phee said these figures were obtained from water samples at the Sungai Teluk Bahang estuary, the six fish farms near the estuary and water on the fringes of the farms.

He said the state government has commissioned a study on the waters in the state together with Cemacs and Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences.

“The checks are still ongoing and we will make the findings public.”