Mass fish death cause identified, results yet to be announced

By VnExpress   June 2, 2016 | 05:35 am PT
Mass fish death cause identified, results yet to be announced
Three ministers who chaired the press conference in May. Photo by VnExpress/Vinh An
Scientists have identified the cause of mass fish deaths recorded along Vietnam's central coast last April. However, the final conclusion will be released later this month after further validation, the government announced today.

Ministers gathered in a monthly press conference today in Hanoi to answer questions on a number of social-economic issues, including the 100 tons of dead fish found along the central Vietnamese coast.

Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan said scientists have identified the cause of the mass fish deaths. The formal conclusion of the investigation will be announced later this June, after “thorough scientific deliberation” by both Vietnamese and foreign experts.

No details of the provisional cause have been revealed.

The investigation also involves identifying who is responsible, Tuan said. Therefore, besides scientific evidence, the final conclusion requires a full investigation of possible violations of the law.

In early April, large quantities of fish washed up dead near the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh Province. The phenomenon spread south along the coast of the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien Hue, resulting in more than a 100 tons of dead fish.

Coastal fishermen and local staff of Vietnam’s Fisheries agency blamed a discharge of chemicals in the vicinity of Vung Ang on April 6. They told reporters that a toxic tide then worked its way south along the coast of four provinces, killing farmed fish as well as free swimming species.

A Taiwanese steel corporation, Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, has become the prime suspect. It is developing a steel mill complex in Vung Ang on a 3,000 hectare plot and designed to produce 15 million tons of steel annually. The first blast furnace went into operation in December 2015.

On April 24, Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) reported that teams were being deployed to investigate the extraordinary fish kill. Scientists at the Fisheries Agency, a unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), promised a definitive diagnosis within 10 days.

On the same day, at MONRE’s meeting, reporters learned that Formosa had cleaned its wastewater discharge pipe using toxic chemicals without informing Vietnamese authorities. “The drainage system is legal,” said vice minister Vo Tuan Nhan. “The problem is what and for how long Formosa discharged into the sea.”

At a press conference by MONRE on April 27, Minister Vu Tuan Nhan issued a statement saying no connection between Formosa and the mass fish deaths has been identified. He said there are two possible reasons for the disaster. One is toxic chemicals released by human activities. The other is an abnormal natural phenomenon that causes algae in the water to bloom at an accelerated rate, commonly known as a “red tide”.

Vietnam’s MONRE said on May 26 the ministry is not covering up the truth about the mysterious mass fish deaths in the central region.

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