Yet More Endangered Species On Sale In Hong Kong, This Time The 'Large Croaker' Fish...

This is getting tiresome. Yesterday I found swim bladders from the 'large croaker' family of fish on sale in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district.

This guy is looking at a large croaker swim bladder that has been labeled 'King Of Swim Bladders' in Chinese. According to Yvonne Sadovy, a marine biologist at the University of Hong Kong, "most of the large croakers that we know about are over-fished". And the 'Chinese Bahaba' (bahaba taipingensis), otherwise known as a 'Giant Yellow Croaker' is teetering on the verge of extinction. This fish's native habitat is in estuarine waters along the coast of southern China, so over-fishing and loss of habitat are the major challenges it faces in its daily struggle to survive. Click here to find out more about how last month one of these huge fish, a 135 kilogram, fifty year old 'Chinese Bahaba', was caught in China's Zhejiang Province, and sold for over US$500,000.00. That's right, half a million dollars. Half a million U.S. dollars, not Hong Kong dollars.

So it's not just the sharks who are in trouble. Unfortunately for the 'Chinese Bahaba', the fish is listed as critically endangered on the United Nations (UN), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Red List. Professor Sadovy and her team at the University of Hong Kong help put it there in 2006.

Amazingly, a croaker swim bladder is worth, quite literally, more than its weight in gold. Old ladies in Hong Kong have been known to hoard them in safes. Sometimes know as fish maw, they have historically been used as speculative investment vehicles in uncertain times, even being used during the last century as a form of currency in times of civil strife and war.  The reason being that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, a croaker swim bladder contains proteins and collagen that are supposed to be highly effective in combating heart disease and glandular problems.

According to this study by Professor Sadovy's research team at the University of Hong Kong, all species within the large croaker family of fish are heavily over-fished, with no sustainable fisheries management plans in place.

Some of the smaller swim bladders for sale in the many and various shops around Hong Kong are mostly farmed through mariculture, as wild stocks have been almost completely depleted.

What's more, Hong Kong does not currently have any legislation to protect threatened marine fish species. This is despite the fact that in mainland China, in theory at least, the 'Chinese Bahaba' is protected as a 'Grade II State Protected Species'.

But whenever one is caught there, it always makes a big splash in the media. These photos are of undated newspaper clippings proudly displayed in the window of the shop in Hong Kong which is at ground zero of the 'large croaker' problem, Kam Fat Sea Products Retail Ltd. This Google Street View image shows where the shop is located, at the corner of Wing Lok Street and Cleverly Street, Sheung Wan.

The odd thing is that despite the Chinese Bahaba's alleged Chinese state protection, whenever one of these magnificent beasts is caught and sold on the mainland, there never seem to be any arrests...

Footnote: It's really difficult to drum up support in Hong Kong for the sharks, but slowly good things are starting to happen. And even though the bluefin tuna campaign is still pretty much in its infancy in Hong Kong, awareness of the problem is increasing too. But unfortunately, the plight of the large croaker family is very much at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to local marine conservation awareness issues. And it looks likely to remain there for quite some time.

ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011