Consortium wants proposed trawling ban scaled back

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

A powerful local body will support the government's proposed permanent ban on trawling if affected fishermen are properly compensated for loss of livelihood.

The Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium said it conditionally supported the ban, but planned to submit 25 demands to the government. Among these, it wants the proposed city-wide, year-round ban relaxed to a seasonal ban confined to some areas.

'This is not in conflict with the government's policy goal. It just offers other exits for fishermen who want to carry on fishing,' Wong Yung-kan, legislator representing the agriculture and fisheries sector, said on behalf of the consortium.

A blanket ban, if enforced, was expected to affect about 400 local trawlers operating in Hong Kong waters. The government plans to introduce a law on the ban this month and seek funding from the legislature for a compensation package after that. The ban would become effective by the end of next year.

The 700 Hong Kong trawlers operating in mainland waters would not be affected. The total fishing fleet in Hong Kong is about 3,900.

The consortium is also seeking more support for fishermen who plan to switch to leisure fishing, eco-tourism, high-end aquaculture or even open-seas fishing.

Samantha Lee Mei-wah, senior conservation officer at WWF Hong Kong, opposed a selective ban, saying it would not help recovery of the marine environment or replenishment of fish stocks. 'The marine ecology is already close to collapse with trawlers that net even the smallest fishes,' she said.

WWF Hong Kong estimates that local fishery resources would rise by up to 45 per cent in the first five years of a trawling ban.

Trawling is highly destructive to the marine environment because of the indiscriminate catch. A study on fishing conducted by the government found local catches already exceed sustainable levels.

Under the proposal drafted by the Food and Health Bureau, trawling would be prohibited to save the fishing stock in Hong Kong from total collapse. The chief executive endorsed a trawling ban in his policy address last year.

The bureau will earmark HK$1 billion to buy trawlers voluntarily surrendered by fishermen under the ban, and offer an allowance to compensate boat owners for loss of income. About 1,000 workers hired on the trawlers would also be paid.

Officials have not disclosed how much boat owners would get for surrendering their vessels, though Wong said a 40-metre-long trawler might cost 7 million yuan (HK$8.3 million) to build on the mainland.

Wong refused to suggest an amount the government should pay in compensation, saying this should be set by officials. But he hoped any compensation could become a permanent offer for fishermen to accept when they chose.

He also warned of possible disputes over the eligibility criteria for the compensation, as it was not known how the government would identify the 400 trawlers.

Hong Kong Fishery Alliance spokesman Keung Siu-fai said the government should clearly spell out details of the compensation package before tabling the ban to lawmakers.

He also warned the ban could increase prices of seafood. The government has no figures for the amount of fish caught by trawlers.

The government says the local fishing fleet produces about a quarter of the fish available for consumption in Hong Kong. In 2009, the total catch was 159,000 tonnes.