An investigation by the Beijing News has found a lack of compliance with regulations at small-scale fish farms near the Chinese capital.

At Tanggu district in the nearby city of Tianjin, owners and staff of privately-operated small-scale fish farms told the newspaper – which is supervised by a Beijing CPC committee’s propaganda department – that they do not have an official license nor do they undergo regular inspections.

Water being injected into a fish pond. Photo: Screenshot/Beijing News video.

The reporter found rampant usage of drugs, disinfectants, and antibiotics at one farm. The farmer, who was not identified by his real name, said that he does not keep written records of the usage, which is a regulatory requirement. He also feeds the fish Chinese medicine and chemicals intended for plants.

The farmer told the paper that he never eats the fish he produces and that chemical residues may remain in fish by the time they are sold. He said he did not know for sure because they are not tested by the authorities.

When the reporter called the local authorities under the identity of a fish farmer, they were told that there was no need to obtain a breeding license, despite regulations stating the requirement.

Fish grown on the farm are shipped to Tianjin and other cities and provinces nearby, the farmer said.

Bottles of chemicals used at a local fish pond. Photo: Screenshot/Beijing News video.

In Daxing district, a suburb in the south of Beijing, a seafood retailer told the paper that he incurred a RMB100,000 (HK$112,618) fine because his products did not pass inspection. Receipts from distributors are issued to retailers but usually unsigned so that the products cannot be traced back to them definitively, retailers told the reporter. Retailers end up having to bear responsibility if problems are found in later inspections.

Concerns over aquaculture products arose last week, when live fish were removed from supermarkets across Beijing.

Empty tanks at a Beijing supermarket. Photo: HKFP.

An “authoritative source” from the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) told business magazine Caixin that companies were seeking to avoid inspections and denied that the move was related to pollution. The Beijing Food and Drug Administration also denied rumours of tainted fish, saying that the de-shelving is “normal business activity for enterprises” to keep in line with consumer habits.

Soon after the story broke, the CFDA published an internal document dated November 3 with its plans to inspect aquaculture products in Beijing and 11 other cities, which included plans to take samples from products to check for veterinary drugs.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.