Fish farmers in southeastern China have blocked a major highway and clashed with police in recent days over large-scale pollution of the Min river, which they say is behind massive die-offs among their stock.
Residents of Shuikou and Wankou townships in Fujian's Gutian county took to the streets Sunday, clashing with police after saying they had sustained losses of 150 million yuan (U.S. $23 million).
A Wankou resident surnamed Huang said more than 1,000 angry fish farmers had blocked the 316 national highway to Fuzhou over the weekend, demanding the authorities address the issue of water pollution.
"Several hundred people went," Huang said. "On Sunday we blocked the highway for several hours, until several thousand police arrived and stopped us."
Huang said that the Min river pollution had appeared suddenly in recent days, and that the fish farmers blamed it for the sudden massive loss of fish stocks.
"There is a paper mill upstream, a pharmaceutical factory, and a smelter," he said. "The water there is poisoned, and our fish have all been killed off by the polluted water."
"We must get a clear answer about the reason for this, and we definitely want compensation too," Huang added.
He said the authorities had refused to make public the results of recent water quality tests, and that the villagers' fish continued to die off.
An official who answered the phone at the Shuikou township government offices said the government had set up a working group to look into the allegations.
"They are still investigating," the official said. "They're not done yet. It's to do with whether or not the enterprises are emitting pollutants or not."
The official confirmed there was a mass protest over the allegations, but said it didn't "add up to a protest."
He declined to comment further.
"If our leaders haven't said anything yet, then how are we to know?" he said.
Calls to the nearby Ningde municipal fisheries bureau and environmental protection departments went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
A report from the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights and Information Center said that protesters had unfurled banners and chanted slogans on the 316 national highway on Sunday, and that five people had been injured in subsequent clashes with police.
The group said some of the farmers had poured stinking piles of rotting fish into the river to produce an unbearable stench.
Last week, China pledged a renewed clampdown on the dumping of toxic waste following a chromium pollution scandal linked to a river in its southwestern province of Yunnan which prompted food safety fears in Hong Kong.
China has been rocked by a series of pollution scandals after years of lax enforcement of what environmentalists say are, on paper, high environmental standards.
Many of the poisonings have involved lead and various toxins from chemical and electronics factories, often affecting the health of local children.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.