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Penghu die-off worst in 30 years

PENGHU, Taiwan -- The Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday declared the offshore Penghu County a “disastrous area,” as fish farmers there suffered the largest losses in 30 years from the recent cold front. As many as 1,500 tons of farmed fish in the county died, according to statistics released yesterday by the Penghu County Government.

County government officials said a total of 34 fish farmers, especially those engaged in the cultivation of cobia, grouper, and spangled emperor, saw over 80 percent of their fish die from the freezing cold, with their aggregate losses estimated at NT$180 million.

Farmers said cobia fish could not survive if sea temperatures dropped below 15 degrees Celsius. As the cold front drove down average temperatures in Penghu to only 12 degrees over the past week, most of the farmed cobia fish died.

To help the farmers, the COA has decided to grant relief funds and offer low-interest loans in order to bring them back to normal operations as soon as possible.

Besides farmed fish, there were also numerous ocean fish which failed to survive the lingering cold front, with the seashore filling with dead ocean fish.

In a bid to help farmers clear dead fish, the Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration yesterday decided to appropriate NT$1 million to finance the removal of dead fish, lest such fish create environmental pollution.

COA officials said that Taiwan has been plagued by a persistent cold front since Feb. 5, with temperatures hitting a low of around 10 degrees Celsius in areas north of Chiayi County, coastal areas in northeastern Taiwan, and the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu until Feb. 17.

COA statistics also indicated that 820 hectares of top-grafted pear, grape, wax apple and peach production were 46 percent damaged by the cold front, translating into total losses of NT$87 million. Fields in Hsinchu County of northern Taiwan were hit the worst, while those in northeastern Yilan county, central Taichung county, and southern Kaohsiung county, among other, also suffered significant losses.

Meanwhile, the COA will dispatch officials to tour the damaged crops in Hsinchu County to determine whether farmers are eligible to apply for subsidies and loans.

In related news, the Central Weather Bureau forecast that temperatures have continued to rebound steadily to the range of 14 degrees Celsius to 24 degrees in Taipei, from 13 degrees to 24 degrees in northern Taiwan, 13 degrees to 25 degrees in central Taiwan, and 14 degrees to 27 degrees in southern Taiwan.

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