Trawling ban will hit diners in pocket, fisherman warns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am

'Mirs Bay used to be a rich fishing ground ... but now the seabed is filled with rocks, concrete, rubbish and mud'

The city's consumers will be the first to suffer from a proposed ban on trawling because reduced local supply will mean more expensive seafood, a veteran fisherman warns.

'If there is no local trawling, seafood would have to come from farther away,' Sam Mun Sai trawler captain Keung Pak-ho said. The 61-year-old has fished for decades.

'The consumers will be then forced to pay more for prawns and fish because of more fuel spent in the longer distance travelled.'

The government is consulting fishermen's groups about a sustainable fisheries strategy that proposes banning trawling in local waters and buying out their boats. According to the consultation paper, trawlers accounted for 45 per cent of the local catch each year.

Mr Keung's family has operated a trawler since his grandfather's time. While he said trawling practices remained largely unchanged - except for advances in navigational equipment - he said there were real changes in the sea.

He said local fishermen should not be blamed for overfishing. He blamed pollution and unethical mainland fisherman who electrocuted fish and used other illegal means to deplete stocks.

'Mirs Bay used to be a rich fishing ground you could trawl with no difficulties,' he said. 'But now the seabed is filled with rocks, concrete debris, rubbish and mud.'

He said the sea off Sai Kung was the victim of marine projects, including the Yantian Port construction, while rampant cross-border smuggling made trawling dangerous.

'It was not uncommon for these smugglers to throw everything into the sea when they were chased by the marine police.' he said.

'Some contractors also dumped dredged mud when no one was looking,' he added.

Mr Keung said many mainland fishing vessels operated in Hong Kong waters, usually in large groups, and that local fishermen often had to give way to them.

'You can never stop that as it would require huge resources,' he said. 'That means some politicians would not like it.'

The veteran fisherman claimed trawling was not destructive because it helped improve the environment by removing plastic bags or bottles from the sea. 'There are tens of thousands of these items in the sea, thanks to the neighbouring developments,' he said.

'If you don't remove them, they would be left there to rot and decompose. So when you put a net down the sea, you'll find it blackened instantly.

'Trawling is like sweeping the floor. It works for the seabed, too. If one day all trawlers are gone, the waters in Hong Kong would all be smelly.'

Mr Keung said he did not know if he would surrender his 25-year-old wooden fishing boat to the government until he saw a specific proposal.

He also rejected upgrading his vessel so he could fish in deeper waters. 'It's all one's own decision whether you want to operate a small or large business, depending on how much risk you want,' he said

'It is better for us to eat as much as we can find from the sea.'