Banning fishing in marine park could lay foundation for sustainable fishery

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2011, 12:00am


I refer to the letter by Joseph Sham, assistant director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation ('Some fishing allowed in marine parks', August 8). Mr Sham's defence of government actions to protect Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park is a poor attempt to justify a woeful record of environmental protection of Hong Kong's marine resources.

When the marine park was set up in 1996, more than 700 fishing licences were issued to commercial fishermen and members of the public (not just Hoi Ha village residents).

Nearly three years ago, the chief executive said in his policy address that fishing would be banned in marine parks. Since then, nothing has happened, other than that more fishermen than ever are plundering the marine park in the expectation of a government handout to get them to stop fishing.

The latest surveys of Hoi Ha Wan fish life show no improvement since the park was gazetted. Although the coral has remained stable, the protection afforded by marine park status has failed to improve the health of the holistic marine environment. In response to constant overfishing, volunteers from Friends of Hoi Ha and WWF regularly remove tonnes of abandoned 'ghost nets' from Hoi Ha Wan and cull long-spined sea urchins that eat coral. Their population exploded because of overfishing of the crabs that feed on the urchins.

If the park became a properly managed 'no-take' zone, a common practice for marine protected areas in other parts of the world, we would see a rapid and large increase in fish life, and Hoi Ha would act as a nursery to provide mature fish for a sustainable fishery outside the park - a win-win situation.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department lacks the proper resources to police the park effectively. The penalties imposed following prosecutions are derisory. The part-time wardens are poorly trained and supervised, and the department's hierarchy is confined to its offices, rarely venturing into Sai Kung Country Park to discuss issues with local people. It has disbanded the marine parks visitor liaison group.

Hoi Ha Wan must be made a no-take zone without further delay. This is the only way to ensure the environmental protection of such a valuable resource and, as a by-product, provide the nucleus of a sustainable fishery. Until such time, any attempts to justify the government's record on the protection of marine life in the marine parks are just empty words.

David Newbery, secretary, Friends of Hoi Ha