Bringing ‘Hope’ to Hong Kong Waters

Bringing ‘Hope’ to Hong Kong Waters Esperanza / Wikipedia

The Esperanza, the largest ship in the Greenpeace fleet, will be making its way to Hong Kong on October 20th. The 72 meter, heavy ice class, former fire-fighting vessel and her crew have dedicated themselves to ensuring people around the globe are aware of our ocean’s plight. Highlighting the impacts of overfishing on marine eco-systems and the dangers of dumping and dredging, the Esperanza is making her way to Hong Kong after visiting Taiwan and Korea; three of Asia’s leading seafood eating regions. Members of the public are welcome to visit the Esperanza—Spanish for hope—for the week that she will be in Hong Kong.


Greenpeace insists we must learn to stop treating the oceans as bottomless providers and trash receptacles—marine life is in danger, and if we don’t respond we may endanger ourselves too. The world’s oceans help regulate our climate, provide for half of the oxygen we need to breathe and they are home to over 80% of the earth’s living beings.


Modern fishing vessels are loaded with state of the art tracking technology enabling commercial fisherman to pinpoint schools of fish, both large and small, with deadly accuracy. Despite the size of the ocean, these technology advances have made it impossible for fish to escape. The seafood that we love to eat—tuna, cod, halibut, flounder—these species have been over exploited for years, removing top predators from marine eco-systems in the process. Many communities around the world have depended on the oceans for their livelihood for generations and it is these people who are suffering the most now. But what the rest of us may not realize is that we all need healthy oceans to sustain life on earth.



Visitors to Esperanza will learn more about the Greenpeace campaign for a global network of marine reserves that will cover 40% of the world’s ocean, and about how to make fishing a more sustainable industry.


Date: October 20th (Sat), 21st (Sun) and 23rd (Tue)
Location: China Merchants Wharf, 18 Sai Ning Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Time: 10:00-17:00 (Greenpeace reserve the right to change the visiting time according to crowd and weather. For details please visit our web.)
Transportation: Bus number 1, 10, 5B, 5P, 5X, 101, 104 for direct access. Or 5-minute walk after alighting from bus number 18, 18P, 113, 904.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 28548300



A History of Overfishing in Hong Kong

Long before Hong Kong was ever a colonial outpost of the British Empire this collection of overgrown islands was sprinkled with secluded fishing villages. Fish species in the region were abundant and, combined with trading in salt and pearls, villages could easily survive on their daily catch.


With the onset of colonialism and an increase in trade in the 19th century, the demand for seafood increased as well, but the industry was still characterized by traditional fishing techniques. A gradual increase in the number of fishermen working the seas around Hong Kong didn't have any noticeable effect on local fish populations.



The British trade in tea and opium brought an influx of gold and silver, and this fast paced commerce commenced Hong Kong’s fascination with luxury goods. Most of Hong Kong’s major industries—transportation departments, electric companies, banks, trading houses—most of these things owe their creation to this period in time. But Hong Kong’s fishing culture predates all that.


In 1937 a biologist, Geoffrey Herklots, was given a grant by the HK government to organize a Fisheries Research Unit. The government recognized that local fishing vessels were being easily ‘out-fished’ by an increasingly mechanized Japanese fishing fleet. When Japan invaded China the importation of seafood from both countries dropped dramatically and the Fisheries Research Unit began salting dried fish for emergency stockpiling. This mass-produced salted fish stock was known locally as “siege-fish”.


After Japan invaded Hong Kong, Herklots’ Fisheries Research Unit was dissolved, but the occupying Japanese completely overhauled and modernized the local fishing fleet. They also initiated a Fisheries Department, something Hong Kong had been lacking.



After the war the new and improved Hong Kong fishing fleet once again found itself in competition with a larger Japanese fleet. But by this point Hong Kong was poised to meet the challenge of market competition; war-time hardships revealed the city had to become more self-sufficient and the surrounding seas were one of its most sustainable resources. The fishing industry was injected with government investment to ensure it remained “truly modern”.


Director of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department, E.H. Nichols, remarked in the foreword of the 1970 Hong Kong Fisheries Bulletin, “…with both technical and financial encouragement given by Government and from the Fish Marketing Organization, the leaders of Hong Kong’s fishing community have in recent years abandoned their traditional sailing junks in favor of modern boats. As a result fishing has become more competitive following the more intensive exploitation of traditional grounds and the search for new and more distant grounds, thereby necessitating the application of more sophisticated fishing gear and fishing techniques... Arising out of these changes—and other developments such as the provision of wholesale markets, low-interest loans, schools for the children of fisher-folk and new homes ashore—an efficient and confident new breed of fishermen has emerged”.


Production volume and production value of the fishing fleet in Hong Kong (1965-2008)

Source: LegCo


According to a 2005 report from Brian Morton of the Department of Zoology for the Natural History Museum in London, from 1960 to 1990, Hong Kong’s fisheries increased their catch from 53,000 tonnes to 224,000 tonnes. Overfishing had become endemic.


To put this in perspective, according to a LegCo report on sustainable fisheries, by 2009, “Hong Kong’s fishing fleet had a production of (only) 159,000 tonnes valued at approximately HK$2 billion, supplying about 30% of the local consumption of marine products.”


To add to overfishing, Hong Kong’s demand for extra land pushed the government to begin ‘reclaiming’ the harbour. Morton asserts, “The fill for the reclamation of the harbor and the new airport came from the sea bed—an estimated 500 million tonnes—such that at one time over 70% of the world’s dredging fleet was operating in Hong Kong waters.” This dredging dumped toxic sludge from the sea floor around Kowloon and Hong Kong Island water fronts, decimating what was left of marine life in Victoria Harbor.


Recreational fishermen have a lesser impact than commercial fishermen, to be sure, but recreational fishermen do not fish out in the deep ocean, they catch fish in breeding and feeding grounds near shore, where young fish grow to maturity. Hong Kong has some 400,000 recreational fishermen, who regularly catch under-developed fish, in effect, compounding the commercial overfishing problem; young fish cannot grow to maturity and replenish the older stocks that live in deeper waters.


Hong Kong’s fish populations have been under attack from all angles for almost half a century.


As LegCo points out, this is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved: “the fisheries resources within the traditional fishing grounds of Hong Kong’s fishing fleet, namely local waters and the South China Sea, have been beset with problems of excessive fishing effort, marine pollution and marine works, leading to a significant reduction in the quality and quantity of fish catch. Taking into account the rise in operating costs, the fishermen’s business has become increasingly difficult, as is the case of capture fisheries around the globe.”


Production per vessel of Hong Kong's fishing fleet and the 'catch per unit of effort' (1985-2008)

Source: LegCo


How is Hong Kong Helping?

Hong Kong has an incredible range of marine biodiversity thanks to its being a meeting point of the Chinese Coastal Current, the South China Sea Drift, the Kuroshio, and Pearl River runoff. We have well over a thousand different species of native marine fauna, including some that live only in Hong Kong.


Luckily, our government has done more than express concern for the dwindling fish stocks in surrounding waters. In 2011 the government announced it will ban trawl fishing in all Hong Kong waters, to help marine populations recover from the past decades. The plan includes funding for buyouts of all affected inshore trawler owners, and will take effect from 31 December 2012.



According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “Banning trawling will allow a living habitat of soft corals, sponges and numerous bottom-dwelling creatures on the seabed to regrow—which will in return support numerous seafood species popular among Hong Kong people. Top fisheries scientists have predicted that just five years after the implementation of the trawling ban, populations of squid and cuttlefish will increase by 35% and that of reef fish by 20%. Populations of larger fish, such as groupers and croakers, will surge by 40 to 70% as well.”


The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department have also been developing multiple artificial reef projects since 1996. Some 637 units of artificial reefs are currently in place with a total volume of 166,040 cubic meters. Over 220 species of fish have been recorded using the reefs for feeding, spawning, and protection.



While these steps are steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go. We need more transparency on where store bought fish were originally caught, and how they came to be for sale in Hong Kong. We need more education for the youth and the working-age individuals who call HK home. We need to cherish Hong Kong’s heritage as a fishing community, dependent on the surrounding seas for sustenance.


By working together and raising awareness, we can ensure future generations will be able to appreciate the native, sub-tropical beauty of Hong Kong’s waters.


If you have further questions regarding the trawling ban or the AFCD’s other conservation efforts, call 2150 7108.




Are we doing enough to protect our seas? What can we do on an individual level to conserve Hong Kong's unique marine biodiversity? Join in the conversation on this thread.


Photo credits: Greenpeace