Police in central China have launched a massive hunt for a poisonous carp that went missing from a line where it was hanging out to dry, the China Daily reported on Tuesday.

The carp's owner, who runs a private clinic in the Hubei city of Xiangfan, said he soaked the 3-kg (6.6-lb) fish in an arsenic solution to be used in a traditional medical treatment.

He hung it outside the clinic but later discovered that the headless fish had disappeared and notified police.

Fearing someone might eat it, dozens of police from 31 stations and hundreds of workers from neighbourhood committees fanned out across the city, handing out flyers, broadcasting hourly TV and radio updates and blitzing mobile phones with text messages.

"Anyone who discovers suspicious headless preserved fish should call the police," the newspaper quoted police as saying. "And anyone who finds any suspicious dead cats or dogs should call the police."

News of the carp theft had "jolted the whole city" the report said, adding police were also trying to ascertain how the clinic owner had got hold of arsenic.