Tighten bans on trawlers for sake of local fish stocks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 August, 1999, 12:00am

As a keen fisherman, I have followed with interest the ban imposed on commercial fishing in the South China Sea during the previous two months.

Local fishermen, despite the loss of income over that period, seem to recognise the benefits of the ban.

Unfortunately, it seems the benefits will be short-lived, as our fishing fleet returns to its usual practice of scooping up everything in the path of their nets. The simple fact is there are too many boats fishing in too small an area.

The main culprit in the rape of our local waters are trawlers, who fish as close to shore as they want, without it seems, any restriction on their operation nor on the mesh size of their nets.

Not only does this kill immature fish before they have a chance to reproduce, but in the process destroys the seabed, the very habitat that supports the fish stocks fishermen are trying to catch.

Our inshore waters are very fertile, serving as a nursery for many species of fish. However, most of the seabed is composed of sand and/or mud and thus prone to damage by trawl nets. There are few reefs that can shelter fish from the nets that sweep the seas day and night.

The only way to ensure the long-term survival of our fisheries, both for commercial and recreational fishermen, is for the Government to regulate and enforce the numbers of boats and the methods used.

Trawlers should be banned from fishing within a certain distance of shore, say 16 kilometres and not within 30 metres of the shore as is the case today.

Artificial reefs should be constructed throughout Hong Kong waters to act as shelter and habitat for fish, which will in turn help to replenish stocks in surrounding waters.

We have seen that taking the pressure off our fisheries does allow them to recover; the measures suggested above would be a start in returning our inshore fisheries to a productive and sustainable resource.