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Sri Lankans Stop Eating Fish

Seafood prices plunged in Sri Lanka on Sunday because of fears that fish may have fed on thousands of human corpses washed into the sea by the region's tsunami.

Fish stalls usually buzzing with customers were deserted, supermarkets reduced the number of fish counters by half and restaurants took seafood off their menus.

"Our sales have been reduced by 90 percent," said Lakshman Rajapakse, who has been selling fish at St. John's Fish Market for 36 years.

Prawns normally selling for $3 a pound found no buyers at $1, he said, sounding desperate.

Crabs, prawns and groupa lay on wooden boxes. Water was sprinkled on them to try keep them fresh — but a powerful odor testified to the lack of success.

By late afternoon, none of the morning's supply had been sold.

"Normally this place is swarming with people," said W.S. Dharmawardene, chief of the market, looking at the bare ceramic-tiled shelves and empty stalls.

"We have been victimized twice over," lamented A.P. Padmasiri, who brought in a truckload of fish but was forced to send it back to cold storage.

"I have lost all my boats, and when I come here no one wants any fish," he said.

Many people feared that the fish had fed on human flesh and would be contaminated and lead to disease, but health officials said that was untrue.

"Scientifically, there's nothing to prove that fish caught after the tsunami cannot be consumed," Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Associated Press. "It's only a psychological myth that I'm sure will pass with time."

"Naturally, the fish would have attacked some of the corpses," said Thilak Ranaviraja, head of the Disaster Management Center. "But people shouldn't worry. It's like eating pork. Pigs eat all the rubbish. But we eat pork, don't we?"

But consumers remained doubtful.

"Since Dec. 26 there have been no customers," Padmasiri said. "People are afraid."

Fish is a staple for most Sri Lankans, and scores of seafood restaurants dot Colombo's coastline.

"We are serving a few cuttlefish dishes and prawns brought in before the tsunami," said Nalin Rodrigo, manager at the Selfish Restaurant. "We don't plan to order any fresh stocks because guests are not ordering seafood dishes."

Chicken replaced most of the seafood at Cargill supermarket, pushing up poultry sales 30 percent, manager Fowzi Ismail said.

The tsunami struck two-thirds of Sri Lanka's coast. It killed nearly 30,000 people in the country and destroyed the livelihood of many fishermen who lost their boats and nets, along with their homes.

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