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Fish drops off dinner tables

Hyderabad/Port Blair, Jan. 5: The tsunami has made fish an untouchable commodity in markets.

There are no takers for the tonnes of sea and tank fish in Hyderabad where stocks have been piling with wholesale vendors since January 1.

'Keeping sentiments in view (after the tsunami disaster), we abstained from selling sea fish for almost a week. But even after new year, sales have remained low,' said Abdus Khader, a fish merchant.

Kaki Padmavati, a 22-year-old fisherwoman, echoed him. Her husband and brother have not gone out fishing for three days as there are no takers. 'After the tsunami, the shoreline has been flooded with dead fish. We even saw some huge turtles and varieties of crabs on our beach,' she said.

'A majority of the coastal population has rejected sea fish under the impression that these fish might have consumed dead human flesh,' says Narasimha Rao, an assistant director in the fisheries department in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. The department has already warned that dead fish are not suitable for consumption.

In Port Blair, 13,000 fishermen are jobless. 'They are afraid to go fishing and people are also not eating fish, but we have not issued any warning about this,' said V. Krishnamurthy, the fisheries director.

The authorities are busy convincing fishermen to return to work, but near the coast. 'They want us to issue a statement saying people can consume fish, but we never asked people to either eat or not eat fish,' Krishnamurthy said.

The undeclared ban on fish consumption has raised prices of chicken and red meat in Hyderabad. The price of chicken has skyrocketed to Rs 120 a kg while meat is selling at Rs 250 a kg.

A government notification issued yesterday, however, said fish of the sea and tank varieties were good enough to be eaten, but keeping public sentiment in mind, it was advised that people keep off seafood for a few more days.

Fish sent from Andhra has also been rejected in other parts of the country. Three consignments to Bangalore and parts of Sholapur have not been accepted, fish merchants said.

In Port Blair, wildlife authorities are yet to make an assessment of the marine life around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 'We are busy with relief work. There has not been any time to make an assessment, which can only start in a month's time,' said S.R. Mehta, the principal chief conservator of forests. 'But the feedback received from our men stationed at various points show that marine life has not been affected.'

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