Rumours of unsafe fish in tsunami zone unfounded
No increased risk of fish-borne diseases
14 January 2005, Rome - There is no evidence that fish- and seafood-borne illnesses have increased in Asian countries hit by the tsunami, according to a new FAO assessment.
Rumours that it is dangerous to eat fish that have been in proximity to or have fed on victims' bodies are criss-crossing southern Asia, and reports suggest that fish consumption is dropping off as a result.
However, FAO says that such fears are unfounded. "In light of the information available, there is no evidence, epidemiological or of any other nature, of an increased risk of fish- and seafood-borne illnesses in the affected regions," the Organization said.
This assessment was based on information gathered from FAO and World Health Organization (WHO) personnel working on the ground in countries affected by the disaster.
Elimination of fish from diet could hurt nutrition
Fish plays a major nutrition role in all of the countries hit by the tsunami, where the average annual per capita fish consumption is among the highest in the world.
According to FAO, eliminating fish from the diet could have adverse nutritional impacts, with possible health consequences -- especially for weakened tsunami survivors recovering from injuries.
"The best advice is to avoid eating any fish or seafood with visible signs of spoilage, and most importantly to ensure that fish is eviscerated and well cooked before consumption," FAO said.
In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, average per capita fish consumption is around 21kg/year, with fish providing people with 58% and 52.3% of their animal protein, respectively. In the Maldives, consumption is 191.4 kg/pc/yr, with 81.4% of all animal protein supplied by fish.
In coastal areas, fish consumption is usually higher -- perhaps twice normal rates. Even in India, in coastal zones like parts of Tamilnadu State, fish can provide people with between 50-60% of their overall animal protein intake.
Leaks from damaged wastewater systems a concern
The UN agency did warn that one emerging concern is that damaged wastewater and sanitation systems might leak into fishing grounds or aquaculture ponds, leading to viral, bacterial and parasitic intestinal infections.
In such situations, people eating raw or lightly cooked fish would be especially vulnerable, while consumption of only healthy-looking, properly cleaned, and fully cooked fish would minimize risks.
Toxic algae blooms unlikely
FAO also addressed fears that one tsunami after-effect could be an increase of biotoxin concentrations in fish.
"It is conceivable that events of the tsunami amplitude could potentially lead to algal bloom and accumulation of ciguatoxin in some finfish species and biotoxins in bivalve shellfish," FAO noted. "In extreme cases, red tides or massive fish deaths would signal the risk, and fishing areas would need to be closed."
However, current environmental conditions in the tsunami-affected region -- which is in its wet and cool rainy season -- are unlikely to favour biotoxin upsurges, the agency concluded.
FAO added that risks for fish and seafood from naturally occurring chemical contaminants stirred up by the earthquake, like heavy metals, are also unlikely.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53168
e-mail this article