Fish farmers counting the cost of a toxic red tide have welcomed government plans to buy up live fish from fish farms in the eastern and southern coastal areas.

Red tide is a natural environmental phenomenon that causes an explosion of red-tinted algae toxins, which are poisonous to fish. The tide was first reported a week ago in the South Kyongsang Province and financial damage to fish farmers in the affected areas is already estimated to run to nearly 3bn won  (US$2.3m).

Announced by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the compensation plans mark the first time the government has bought live fish. It usually purchases frozen catches of fish, including cod, halibut and octopuses.

The ministry expects the move to cost billions of wons, and revealed that it will begin to buy the fish by Saturday at the earliest.