Tang 'too busy' to meet WWF over declining fish stock

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2006, 12:00am

Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen has been accused of turning a blind eye to the marine environment by refusing to meet conservationists seeking action to stop the dramatic decline in fish stocks.

In the three months before he made his budget last week, WWF officials made several requests to make a half-hour presentation on how they believe Hong Kong's marine environment can be helped and how to save the fishing industry from ruin. But each time they were told Mr Tang could not spare the time to meet them.

The WWF is proposing a series of steps, including the use of no-take zones. It says deadlocked government proposals for a yearly moratorium and what it describes as 'minuscule' no-fishing zones do not go far enough.

WWF CEO Eric Bohm said: 'We have ... made several requests to Henry Tang to hear our campaign presentation, which takes half an hour. The response from his office is that he doesn't have time. My answer to that is: 'He doesn't have half an hour between now and his retirement?''

Mr Bohm said he believed the government was not prepared to spend money on an intensive marine conservation campaign because it feared compensation to fishermen and other expenses would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The WWF argues that the costs will be about half those of the government estimates and that the outlay will be recouped in the long term with the salvation of the fishing industry, which they say has no future if fish stocks keep declining.

'I feel they are really letting a constituency - the fishing community - down,' said Mr Bohm. 'These people have a declining livelihood. The price of fuel is going up, their catches are down and they can't make ends meet, and yet we have a government that isn't responding to what we perceive as a crisis.

'It is ludicrous that money can be found for expanding Ocean Park - and that is not a criticism because I can see why they are doing it - but money can't be spent for something that is either not consumer-based or not glamorous.'

Mr Bohm has now written to Mr Tang appealing again for him to see the WWF presentation.

A spokesman for Mr Tang said the initial request to see the WWF presentation had come at a 'very busy time' in the run-up to the budget.

Asked if Mr Tang would be prepared to meet WWF officials in the coming weeks, he refused to comment.