Andy Cornish's Blog

Dr Andy Cornish was raised in Hong Kong, and gained a strong interest in wildlife through spending time in Pokfulam Country Park. He studied Zoology at Nottingham University in England, travelled extensively through Central America where he learnt to scuba dive, and later did his PhD on reef fishes at the University of Hong Kong. Since then, he worked for a year doing coral reef management for the government of American Samoa, and taught in the Dept. of Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong. He worked at WWF from 2005 to late 2012 as Conservation Director, and was responsible for four programmes: Climate, Footprint, Local Biodiversity and Regional Wetlands (including management of the Mai Po Nature Reserve). He remains involved in environmental issues on an independent basis.

How To Tell If A Trawler Is Trawling?

A Quick Guide
October 1, 2013

Once a month or so I get sent pictures of trawlers in Hong Kong asking - Is this boat trawling illegally? So I thought I'd put together this quick guide.
Prior to the trawling ban at the end of 2012, there were about 1,100 trawlers based in Hong Kong, and more than 90% had the permits to fish in mainland water. Only about 400 of these primarily fished in Hong Kong. Since Chinese New Year, the Government has started a scheme to buy-back those 400 trawlers whose owners wish to volunteer to sell them to Government, and these will eventually be scrapped, sunk as artificial reefs etc. The trawler owners can alternately continue to fish in mainland water, sell their boats on the open-market, convert them into dive boats etc. The buy-back scheme will last until Dec 2015, and even after then there will still be hundreds of trawlers based in Aberdeen, Shau Kei Wan, Cheung Chau and Tuen Mun, that travel south out of Hong Kong waters before putting their nets down. This is completely legal.
So how can you tell if a trawler is just traveling, or if it is trawling illegally? (The only legal trawliing still occurring will be for scientific research with a government permit, which will be rare).
Firstly there are several different types of trawler:
- Shrimp trawler (with straight outriggers that swing out from the sides of the boat to drag 12 or more small nets along the seabed behind the boat);
- Hang trawlers (with outriggers like a grasshopper's hind legs that drag a single large cone-shaped net through the water column);
- Stern trawlers (with a large A-frame at the back of the boat that drags a single large net along the seabed with special otterboards to keep the net open);
- Pair-trawlers (like stern trawlers in design but two trawlers work side-by-side to drag a particularly large net through the water column).
Despite this complexity in types, determining whether a trawler is trawling is easy providing you're close enough. Firstly, for a shrimp or hang-trawler, are the outriggers out, or against the side of the vessel? They can only fish with the outriggers out. Secondly - and this applies to all of trawler types, are there ropes coming off the back of the outriggers or the stern of the trawler stretched tight into the water, or are the ropes to the nets hanging loosely or not visible? You guessed it - only those with ropes stretched tight into the water are actually trawling.
If you do see trawling in Hong Kong waters, please do take a note of the registration number, and even get a picture (ideally with some recogniseable local coastline included), and let AFCD know on 2150 7108 during office hours, or through the 1823 Call Centre.
AFCD have successfully prosecuted four cases of illegal trawling in the past 9 months, and are investigating four more cases so it does pay to be vigalent. In the coming years I'd predict that the main problem will not come from the Hong Kong based trawlers, but mainland based boats trying their luck along the borders of our waters once fish stocks really start to recover here.  
Illegal trawling can do major damage to the recovering seabed - reporting it is one of the most powerful things you can do to help our shattered ecosytem recover!



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