Releasing wrong fish on Buddha's birthday could do more harm than good: Green Power

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am

Buddhists who release fish into the sea in a show of compassion to mark Buddha's birthday may be doing more harm than good if they pick the wrong fish, a green group warns.

People who practise Chinese Buddhism traditionally mark the celebration, which takes place tomorrow, by buying and releasing animals otherwise facing slaughter. The practice demonstrates Buddha's teachings of kindness and compassion.

"But by picking the wrong creature, the believers could do more harm than good to the habitat," Green Power's chief executive officer Dr Man Chi-sum said.

Such is the case with the Sabah giant grouper, a cross-breed bred in Malaysian fish farms specifically for consumption.

The fish has become a popular choice for release as it is large and relatively cheap at HK$60 to HK$90 a catty (600 grams). It looks like a local giant grouper, but costs less.

Releasing it into Hong Kong waters could adversely affect local ecosystems as it has a huge appetite. The fish has to consume 4kg of smaller fishes to grow by just 1kg.

"It could even bite humans when hungry," Man said.

Last month, a man was bitten by a grouper off the shores of Pok Fu Lam. The bite marks left by the fish were 15cm long.

It is unknown what the impact on the habitat would be if the species mated with local groupers, said Ken Ching See-ho , director of Green Power's Eco-education and Resources Centre.

Ching said he found eight Sabah giant groupers during a recent dive at Sharp Island in Sai Kung. He warned that the groupers could threaten the red bandfish that lay eggs near the island every May.

Anyone who needed to release fish for religious purposes could switch to duskytail groupers, red snappers or sweetlips, Ching said. But seafish should not be released in western waters as the water is a combination of fresh and seawater.

Ching said many animals died after being released in the wrong places. He related stories of people who released hairy crabs, tortoises, frogs and even insects. Once, 10,000 grasshoppers were released into the Shing Mun Reservoir, he said.

As for fish released at public piers, Ching said many ended up being caught within the hour by anglers on the same pier.