Don't be caught out by one big fish

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am


The photograph we published last Wednesday of a proud fisherman with a metre-long bass reeled in from Pier 3 in Central would appear to speak volumes. It seems to say that fish stocks are thriving, thanks to government efforts to clean up Victoria Harbour and protect fisheries. But it is wrong to make such assumptions from a single image. While efforts to improve water quality have made great strides, more needs to be done. The fish population remains in crisis. How such a large fish came to be in so busy a part of the harbour when none so big has been caught there for years is a question that cannot be answered with certainty. Fish caught in the same area are usually no more than 10 or so centimetres long, the result of poor water quality and years of overfishing. Although the cross-harbour swimming competition resumed last October for the first time in 33 years, its route was well east of Central, where quality readings still fall short of objectives. Our fishing industry continues to harvest more catch than is sustainable, leaving stocks in a pitiful state.

But long-overdue government measures are gradually changing that. To usher in a ban on trawling at the end of the year, authorities are buying up 400 boats and compensating fisheries workers under a HK$1.7 billion scheme. An end is in sight to the millions of cubic metres of waste pumped daily into our waters with the expected completion in 2014 of a sewage collection and treatment system centred on Stonecutters Island. Together, the programmes should go a way to rejuvenating Hong Kong's once-abundant marine life.

Ensuring schedules are met and enforcing often overlooked fisheries protection laws are crucial, though. As welcome as the trawling ban may be, monitoring of fishermen, who do not require licences, remains haphazard. People with indigenous status are permitted to fish in marine parks, while the only no-catch preservation area comprises less than 1 per cent of our waters. More needs to be done before fish as big as that caught in Central are common.