Financial gain, not science or politicking, key to trawling bans

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2011, 12:00am


If other countries want to do away with bottom trawling, compelling science and tenacious lobbying will not be enough - they are going to need money, an essential element of Hong Kong's success with the ban.

Environmental campaigner Andy Cornish said the HK$1.7 billion compensation package for fishermen was 'a massive amount of money'.

'If the government hadn't been so flush with cash, this is unlikely to have happened the way it's happened,' said Cornish, director of WWF in Hong Kong.

A number of countries such as China, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Malaysia have established no-trawl zones or other forms of restrictions, while Indonesia, Belize and Palau have banned trawling entirely. But Yvonne Sadovy, fisheries expert and professor at the University of Hong Kong, admitted that some nations might find the financial demands difficult to justify.

'Certainly in some countries it's harder to have a ban than other countries. Here we don't have an excuse not to. We can afford it,' she said.

Since Hong Kong's ban was passed on May 18, Cornish has been invited to consult in a Southeast Asian country that he would not identify that is considering similar legislation.

Despite the huge expense, if all goes well the government can expect a return on its investment.

In 2007, the University of British Columbia conducted a study that concluded that environmental improvements from a trawling ban would contribute to an economic return on the investment, estimating that spending HK$1 billion would return HK$2.5 billion in fishing and leisure industries over 25 years.

'It's not just some kind of sunk investment where you sink a few hundred million dollars of the government's money and the only people who are happy are a few greenies and a few divers,' Cornish said.

But legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said lawmakers' support was primarily motivated by a recognition that fisheries needed to be sustainable for a healthy marine environment.

'Because Hong Kong is a small territory and the waters within our jurisdiction are not very big, trawling is especially detrimental and disastrous for catching fish and shrimp and other products. So by banning trawling, a lot of products can come back again,' Li said.


This percentage of the world's ocean area lies outside the jurisdiction of any one nation, Conservation International says