WWF welcomes Hong Kong trawl ban
The new policy, which comes into full effect in late 2012, includes a HK$1.72 billion (US$219 million) buyout scheme that provides ex gratia payments for affected inshore trawler owners and other larger vessels. The new rules also include a payment plan for owners who voluntarily surrender their vessels as well as a one-off grant to affected local deckhands.
The Legislative Council decision follows the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s (HKSAR) announcement in Oct 2010 of a proposed ban on all bottom and mid-water trawling activities including fishing using pair, stern, shrimp and hang trawlers in its waters.
Big environmental payoff
A study conducted by Canada’s University of British Columbia for WWF Hong Kong finds that 5 years after the implementation of the trawling ban – provided the government also stops commercial fishing in marine parks - populations of squid and cuttlefish will increase by 35 percent, while the number of reef fish will grow by 20 per cent. Meanwhile, populations of larger fish, such as groupers and croakers, will surge by 40 to 70 per cent from their current levels.
The trawling ban will also give soft corals, sponges and numerous bottom-dwelling creatures an opportunity to recover, says WWF.
The capture fisheries sector in Hong Kong represents approximately 3,700 fishing vessels. Close to 1,100 of these are trawlers with the remaining small boats used for inshore fishing. Some 400 trawlers operate partly or wholly in Hong Kong’s territorial waters, covering 1,650 km2, and account for roughly 80 per cent of its fishing fleet’s total engine power.
But this is nearly double what the area’s marine environment can support, says a 2006 study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences.
“While local capture supply counts for only 20 per cent of all marine fisheries production in Hong Kong, no fisheries management system has ever been applied to its territorial waters. This has resulted in a dramatic decline in catch volume since the 1970s,” said Dr. Andy Cornish, WWF Hong Kong’s Director of Conservation. “The Hong Kong trawler ban could help valuable fish stocks recover.”
WWF also cautions that more still needs to be done to ensure that Hong Kong’s marine environment has a healthy future:
“Although a positive step, we still need the government to ban commercial fishing in Hong Kong marine parks, which was announced in 2008 but not put into action. A commercial ban along with sufficient regulatory and financial support to aid affected fishermen over the long term needs to be considered for Hong Kong’s marine environment fully recover,” said Dr. Cornish.
WWF Hong Kong has been campaigning for a ban on trawling since 2005 by promoting its significance to the recovery of ocean habitats and fish populations.
Only a handful of nations have imposed trawling bans to date. In the South China Sea, the Chinese government prohibits trawling all year round in water less than 40 meters and extends this with a May – August moratorium on all trawling, purse-seining and stake-netting activities. Countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada and Malaysia have established no-trawl zones in inshore waters to protect marine resources. Indonesia has implemented a trawling ban that extends across the entire country.
“There was a lot of resistance to the trawling ban in Hong Kong at first,” said Dr. Cornish, “but the growing support we received from the local community shows that Hong Kongers are aware of the problems affecting their environment and are taking action.”
In 2008, nearly 60,000 people signed a WWF petition calling for sustainable fisheries management in Hong Kong waters. And in recent weeks the response has been even stronger with academics, stakeholders, students and the public rallying to lobby legislators to support the ban.