Fishmongers hit by ban on freshwater fish in raw dishes

He used to have a steady stream of customers, who would buy more than 800kg of fish daily.

But last week, fishmonger Yew Wing Fatt, 48, said he was lucky if he sold 200kg.

Ever since the National Environment Agency (NEA) banned freshwater fish in raw fish dishes on Dec 5, business has taken a hit.

When The New Paper (TNP) visited his stall at the basement of Chinatown Complex last Friday morning, Mr Yew's stall still had more than 20 fish left unsold.

Pointing to his rows of song fish, also known as Asian bighead carp, he said: "Look around you, I have so much left. Business is bad and I don't know what to do."

Mr Yew's stall sells only song fish, which hawkers selling porridge serve as a popular raw side dish.


"More than 10 hawkers used to come and buy from me. Now, it's zero. The ban has made everyone afraid of eating the fish, even if it is cooked," he said.

Mr Yew's stall has been operating for more than 60 years and this is the worst that business has been.

Mr Yew is not alone. Other fishmongers in the area whom TNP spoke to said their businesses have been badly hit by the ban.

Mr Malcolm Wong, 59, whose shop sells toman (also known as snakehead fish), said his sales have gone down by 30 per cent.

To keep his business afloat, Mr Wong has been explaining to people passing by that the fish can still be cooked and eaten.

He said: "They are paranoid. I keep telling people it's okay to eat the fish if you cook it, but they are still scared." But it is not only stalls selling freshwater fish that are affected. A fishmonger, who wanted to be known only as Madam Yuew, said people are afraid of buying wolf herring from her stall.

Wolf herring is a type of saltwater fish and its meat is served raw in noodles.

Madam Yuew said: "Even though the ban is for freshwater fish, people are avoiding my stall also. They think eating it will make them sick."

Business has been so bad for some fishmongers that they are drastically cutting the amount of fish they get from their suppliers.

Mr Yew, for instance, used to buy around 800kg of whole song fishes a day from his Malaysian suppliers.

Last week, he bought only 200kg of halved song fishes daily.

Since the tail is the one that is eaten raw, "there is no point selling the other half or even trying to sell so much", he said.

The NEA ban that came into effect earlier this month caught fishmongers by surprise.

"The ban was very sudden and I had no time to prepare for it. I have a livelihood and family to feed. With fewer people buying my fish, it is difficult," said Mr Wong.

Khai Seng Trading and Fish Farm, a local fish farm that rears freshwater fish, is also feeling the effects of the ban.

Despite mainly supplying the catch to restaurants and wholesale centres, they told TNP that demand had gone down by about 7 per cent.

According to NEA's joint media release on Dec 5, freshwater fish was found to "have significantly higher bacterial contamination than saltwater fish, and are likely to present higher risks of infection when consumed raw".

It said: "The ban will help protect consumers and give greater peace of mind to the public."

Freshwater fish ban started on Dec 5

The National Environment Agency (NEA) announced on Dec 5 that freshwater fish in all ready-to-eat raw fish dishes will be banned with immediate effect.

Tests done by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and NEA found that freshwater fish had significantly higher bacterial contamination than saltwater fish and higher risks of infection when consumed raw, according to a media release.

Retail food establishments selling raw fish dishes can use only saltwater fish intended for raw consumption.

This refers to fish typically bred or harvested from cleaner waters, and stored and distributed according to appropriate cold chain management practices.

Food stalls, including those at hawker centres, coffee shops and foodcourts, are required to stop selling raw saltwater fish until they have shown they can comply with the practices required for handling raw fish.

Restaurant operators can continue selling raw fish dishes provided they comply with the practices required.

The ban comes after an increase in Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections reported in June, when some patients fell ill after eating a raw fish dish.

In the first half of the year, the number of GBS cases at hospitals reached 238 a year, compared to an average of 150 a year In July, when some samples of raw fish were found to contain GBS bacteria, the NEA advised stallholders to temporarily stop selling raw fish dishes using song and toman fish.

This article was first published on December 14, 2015.
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