MILLIONS of dead fish have been found floating on the Minjiang River in southeast China's Fujian Province and it has started to stink.
A cleanup has begun and authorities are investigating the cause and trying to find out whether there is any danger to drinking water.
Local farmers suspect that industrial waste water have been illegally discharged into the river.
China National Radio said the river was covered in fish from Gutian County's Huangtian Town to Shuikou Town - an area which is the largest base for the breeding of grass carp in Fujian Province.
It is estimated that some 8 to 9 million fish in Huangtian have died in recent days.
Wei Maoci, owner of a fish farm, said his fish were the first to die and he had lost more than 3 million yuan (US$470,478), the most of all the farmers.
Wei said his workers called him to say there was something wrong with his fish on the night of August 27. When he arrived, he found fish floating on the water.
He suspected an oxygen deficiency and ordered workers to pump oxygen into the water. "However it didn't work," he said. "Fish started to die even as we gave more oxygen. Some 100 cages of fish died within two hours."
Officials from the local fishing bureau went to Wei's farm the next day and confirmed that the fish died from a lack of oxygen in the water.
"All the fish in Huangtian floated onto the river on August 27, 28 and 29," Wei said.
At first, farmers took dead fish from the water and buried them. The government also promised subsidies to help cover losses. "There were so much dead fish that farmers started to throw the bodies into the Minjiang River, which is smelling bad now," Wei said.
Aquaculture is one of the most important industries in Gutian. Among the 18 villages, eight make a profit from fish farming. And business is good, with each fish farmer able to earn profits of 50,000 to 60,000 yuan a year.
"We all lost a family fortune. Those with small enterprises (supported by fish farming) lost at least 200,000 to 300,000 yuan," Wei said.
Farmers believe the problem was caused by industrial effluent from nearby plants, including those involved in antibiotics production and paper making. Heavy rain helped the pollutants leach into the river.
Wei said the local environmental protection bureau told him the fish died of low dissolved oxygen, but the bureau couldn't find what had caused it.
Water samples were being sent to a provincial facility for further checks.
Shuikou Town, which is downstream of Huangtian, began to see large number of dead fish from last Thursday.
On Saturday, Xinhua news agency said the Fujian government has organized staff to remove the dead fish from the Minjiang River for burying and environmentally friendly processing.
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