About 45 tonnes of fish, some wild and some farmed, appeared on the tourism-dependent Penghu Island archipelago in the Taiwan Strait from February 14 following a cold snap, county environmental staffer Hsu Ching-fang said.
Local media said on Friday that 10 times that amount of dead fish was still in the water, adding it was the worst mass killing off Penghu in 30 years.
"Every beach in Penghu has been hit with fish in varying amounts," Hsu said. "This is something we haven't seen before."
Temperatures dipped below 9 degrees Celsius for three days in early February, unusually low for subtropical Penghu.
Penghu County officials joined with residents in a campaign to remove dead fish yesterday. Penghu’s fish culture industry also suffered its heaviest losses in 30 years as a result of the cold spell over the past two weeks. Officials said ...
That weather came along with snow storms in nearby China.
Government agencies have allocated T$1.06 million ($34,000) for daily beach cleanups, Hsu said.
Tourists can still use the beaches, which are normally known for their windswept expanses of white sand and offshore coral.Officials and residents joined in a campaign yesterday to remove dead fish washed ashore by the ton on the outlying island chain as a result of the recent cold spell.
Penghu Magistrate Wang Chien-fa led the campaign, supported by members of the public and officials from the county government's Environmental Protection Bureau, Agriculture and Fishery Bureau, Public Works Bureau and Economic Affairs Bureau.
Wang launched the drive after massive numbers of dead fish kept washing up on Penghu's scenic beaches, although environmental protection officials had been using heavy equipment to remove 17 metric tons of fish carcasses over the past two days.
The Penghu island group lies about 50 km west of Taiwan proper. The four most seriously affected beaches are located in Huhsi township and Baisha township.
"This ecological disaster will have a serious impact on Penghu's fishery industry," Wang said.
"The dead fish on the beaches are from shallow waters," Wang continued, adding that more dead fish from deeper waters might wash ashore in the next few days.
Wang expressed concern that the abnormal cold weather might have broken the food chain, making it difficult for Penghu's fishermen to make a living.
He said it is important that the county government step up marine conservation programs to allow the release large amounts of young fish into the ocean.
When the fish first started washing ashore, some local residents picked them up and made "a small fortune." But as more carcasses kept piling up on the beaches, county government officials began to worry about sanitation problems as the fish began to rot.
Penghu's fish culture industry also suffered its heaviest losses in 30 years -- estimated at NT$181.86 million -- as a result of the cold spell over the past two weeks, according to statistics released by the Council of Agriculture (COA).
County government statistics show that fish farms in Penghu lost over 1,500 metric tons, or 80 percent of their fish, including cobia and grouper, which experts say cannot survive temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius.
The COA is working on a relief program to provide low-interest loans to help Penghu's fish farmers get back on their feet.