Trawl ban may bring threatened species back into local waters

Some are optimistic about the new law, but others are afraid that fish prices will rise

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2012, 4:17am

Despite the general scepticism, there are still those who are optimistic about the trawling ban.

Fisheries officials, marine scientists and fishermen expect local waters to soon be teeming with more shrimps, crabs and fish, although they believe that some species may well be gone for good.

"If the ban is successful, then the kinds of fish that will benefit are the lizardfish, flatheads, tonguefish and several small croaker species, among others," said Yvonne Sadovy, a professor from the University of Hong Kong's School of Biological Sciences. "[This also includes] a few groupers, such as the mud grouper, which used to be common in trawl catches but is now considered a threatened species," she said.

But Sadovy said it was unlikely that the large yellow croaker - once abundant in the South China Seas and Hong Kong waters - would return. "It is very unlikely that the large yellow croaker will return since it has almost completely disappeared everywhere it occurs," she said.

"Its once abundant spawning aggregations have been completely decimated."

Sadovy said a recovery of fish would occur only if, in addition to the trawl ban, fishing efforts were also regulated to keep them within biologically sustainable levels.

Hong Kong should cap the number of fishermen, whether commercial or recreational, as well as the amount of fishing gear available through a registration system, she suggested.

Ko For-kun, a Tap Mun fisherman, also expects the population of shrimp in local waters to grow exponentially within the first year of the ban. "It is going to be a strong boost in Tolo Harbour and Port Shelter," he said.

But his colleague, Keung Pak-ho, said the benefits would come at the expense of fish buyers.

"All fish and shrimp will be more expensive … as those controlling the supply will take advantage of the shortage," he said.

Dr So Ping-man, assistant director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, however, said the increase in fish prices would likely be only temporary as 70 per cent of the city's seafood is imported.

"There might be a short-term price rise at the beginning, until the supply of imported or freshwater fish fills the gap," he said. Cheung Chi-fai