Treading water on sustainable fisheries| Jerry Patchell 26 Jun 2019
Associate Professor of Divisions of Environment and Sustainability, Public Policy, and Social Science
Our fishery gave birth to a love of seafood, but it is also contributing to the global fish stocks decline.
We degraded it through overfishing, pollution and reclamation before building a fleet to ravage fisheries in other places.
Many cities have actually done the same. Ironically, calls to save global fish stocks come from cities that sacrificed their own fisheries.
Yet, Hong Kong also shows the way to a solution. It retains a resilient population of people who fish, those with the expertise and toughness to build a sustainable fishery, that is, such as those where catch volume and fishing practices allow for continual regeneration of stock, while enabling fishers to achieve a decent standard of living.
People in the industry will overfish and abuse the ecosystem to provide more income if they can't afford a living.
But our highly adaptable fishermen can demonstrate a global model for sustainable fishery.
This model is inspired by fishers in Sai Kung, who constantly adapt to an increasingly sophisticated society and economy.
Before World War II, they lived aboard wind-driven sampans and junks, then converted to diesels and trawling.
When local fisheries were depleted, many went offshore and others turned to fish farms.
However, cheap and unsustainably caught or farmed fish from overseas crippled the fish farms, as did pollution and reclamation.
Fishers switched to junk trips, seafood restaurants, crewing yachts, and other marine activities, all along supplementing incomes with construction, longshore, factory and other jobs.
While most fisher children found land-based jobs, many keep a marine-based livelihood and are the people most likely to rebuild the industry. However, their ties to the fishery is slipping away.
Although the government and NGOs have supported fish farming, employment diversification and protected areas, those policies are outweighed by encouragement to exit fishing and the supplanting of generational succession with low-wage mainland deckhands.
In the 2018 policy address, the government recommended designating new fish culture zones at suitable locations, as well as resuming issuance of new marine fish culture licences.
However, these are only an extension of present policies that do not support the development of a sustainable fishery per se.
If Hong Kong can make a metropolitan-scale effort to match sustainable fishery policies with the self-reliance and entrepreneurialism of our fishermen, they will have many more opportunities to thrive.
Policies need to allow our fishers to move in and out of fishing, integrating marine and other activities.
At present, the government spends so little developing sustainable fishing technologies and practices, as well as enhancing and protecting fishery areas.
We simply can't expect fishers to develop a sustainable fishery by themselves, while Hong Kong gets the bulk of its cheaper supply from other countries.
Only by accepting the real costs of establishing a sustainable fishery will we realize the costs we impose on the world's oceans and fishing's exploited workforce.
If we can create a powerful model, not only will we walk the talk but also help establish technologies, practices and values to change other fish markets and fisheries.
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