Drilling noise at Sokos has hit catches, say fishermen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2007, 12:00am

Islanders see tests for LNG plant as harbinger of doom

Underwater investigation is destroying fish stocks around the Soko Islands before work on a controversial natural gas terminal has even begun, fishermen claim.

CLP Power has been drilling into the seabed from a 10-metre-wide marine platform in recent weeks as part of a geotechnical investigation for the liquefied natural gas depot it wants to build on South Soko Island.

The Environmental Protection Department issued a permit for the survey work in April after approving the company's environmental impact assessment for the proposed depot. The Marine Department has also issued a permit.

But inshore fishermen from Cheung Chau, who have been trawling the islands' waters - one of Hong Kong's best grounds - for decades, said the noise from the drilling had disturbed the habitat and slashed daily catches by up to 75 per cent.

Cheung Chi-sang, chairman of the Soko Island Small Boat Operators Association, said three drilling platforms were put up next to South Soko Island on July 11 and all were in operation until July 26, when two were taken down. Platforms had also been built at points around the island.

'All three platforms were towed out to Soko Island by barge on June 4,' he said. 'The drilling started on June 4 on land and continued non-stop until July 26. When they had all three platforms up at the same time, it was extremely noisy. Because of the noise, the big fish are scared away and we only catch small fish. I am very worried because we depend on this area for our livelihood.'

Mr Cheung said about 100 fishermen regularly fish around the Soko Islands and in certain seasons they went there daily. He said his own catch had dropped by 30 to 40 per cent.

'The Soko Islands are extremely important because they are the only really good fishing grounds left,' he said. 'If they put up the whole gas depot, it will destroy the whole small- boat fishing industry in Cheung Chau. The small boats can't really go anywhere else.'

Cheung Chau fisherman Fung For-yau said he had been fishing in the area for more than 10 years.

'We have caught about 90 per cent of our fish in the Soko Islands,' Mr Fung said. 'It is the best fishing area, especially for smaller fish. We catch mainly small fish at this time of year - about 100 a day - and I usually earn HK$800 to HK$1,000 a day.'

He said that now they were catching 20 to 30 fish a day. 'Today, we caught about four catties of fish, worth about HK$300. If they build a storage facility, I think we won't be able to catch any fish at all here.'

Albert Chan Wai-yip, a legislative councillor for the western New Territories, said he was arranging a meeting between the fishermen's association and the Marine Department so the boat operators could put their concerns to officials.

A spokeswoman for CLP Power said it would be collecting data on slopes and rock conditions over the next few months.

'The investigation involves some drilling and collection of samples which will provide us with a much better understanding of the geo-physical conditions of the site for detailed planning and design work,' she said.

'CLP Power has had ongoing engagement with major fishermen's groups, including the group headed by Mr Cheung. Discussions involve both project progress and site investigation. The environmental practices of our site investigation are way beyond the statutory requirements.'

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said a decision on the proposed terminal and the new financial plan submitted by CLP Power, of which it formed a part, had not yet been taken.

High toll

WWF Hong Kong opposes the gas terminal because of the effects it will have on marine life

It estimates the annual death toll of adult fish would be 400,000