'Destructive Fishing Prohibited', Hong Kong.

I spotted this sign yesterday in the 'quaint fishing village' of Tai O, at the western point of Lantau Island, Hong Kong. 

The very fact that this sign even exists is heartbreaking enough.

Overfishing is such a big problem in Hong Kong, that fish stocks in local waters around the city are very near to the point of collapse. The expensive fish that is served in restaurants in the city is usually caught and flown in from South East Asia, whilst the cheaper fish sold in local 'wet markets' is caught in Chinese coastal waters. (This fish is cheap and it contains dioxins, PCBs from Chinese air and water pollution, * see footnote).

The fact that there are very few fish in local waters here is in part due to the above captioned 'destructive fishing techniques'.

In detail...

This one is new to me. I never knew that fish in Hong Kong waters were being literally 'hoovered up' under our noses.

This is where the gloves come off. Illegal fishermen bomb the water with dynamite, declaring an all out war on fish. After detonation, the dead fish and their shell-shocked brethren float to the surface to be easily scooped out. This technique is extremely harmful to coral reefs, with many reefs in Hong Kong now toast because of dynamite fishing. Photo of dynamite fishing, here.

This is known as bottom-trawling. Large bottom-trawling boats in Hong Kong are required by law to have a commercial fishing licence. But like the 'suction device' above, I have never seen a small-scale ad-hoc 'dredging device', so I know very little about this technique.

The 'toxic substance' referred to in the sign is usually cyanide. Fish are stunned by a snorkelling or scuba-diving fisherman bearing poison. Once dazed by cyanide, the fish can easily be removed by hand. Cyanide fishing is still a common practice in the Philippines and Indonesia, with fish caught in this way exported by air to the seafood restaurants of Hong Kong. Do I detect a whiff of hypocrisy here?

Another no-brain fishing technique. 'Fishermen' in boats use a car battery and jump leads to electrocute marine life. Afer connecting a set of jump leads to a car battery onboard, they throw the leads over the side of the boat and into the water, and zap, hey presto, dead fish.

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I think it's great the Hong Kong government puts up signs against these kinds of 'fishing' activities, but who knows how well the law is being enforced. It's still shocking to me, and I do wonder how many HK$200,000 fines and/or six month jail sentences have been handed out over the years, in contrast to how many tons of fish have been caught illegally.

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*Footnote: 08 Jan 2010, South China Morning Post: "Pregnant women have been advised to eat less locally caught fish to cut the risk of exposure to cancer-linked chemicals that might also distort fetal sex formation. The advice came as a Baptist University research team reported on the biological impact of chemical pollutants in the air and water that pass into human bodies, mostly through food.... The initial findings indicate the presence of dioxin and oestrogen in food samples. While the concentration levels were not measured, a high level of activity indicated a higher risk of exposure to the pollutants. Among the 20 most common types of fish in the markets, big eye and orange-spotted grouper had the highest estimated levels of dioxin-like activities."

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

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