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.

Trawling ban kicks off

Next step – ban commercial fishing in marine parks
January 8, 2013

 
It was many years in the making, but the ban on all trawling is now finally in effect as of the 1st January The marine ecosystem has started the recovery process, and in years to come we will truly reap the rewards: from increased fish catches, to clearer waters and regeneration of coral communities, and the opportunity to swim in waters teaming with fish once again.
 
The decision by the Food and Health Bureau to ban trawling in one of the most overfished waters in the world was courageous and globally significant, and deserves far greater recognition and applause. It came at quite a price, HK$ 1.7 billion (negotiated up from 1 billion by the fishing community), and a loss of jobs estimated at up to 1,200 people from the 400 trawlers that will likely cease fishing.
 
Unfortunately, it appears that certain people are trying to make hay while the sun shines. According to a recent article in The Standard, in the past year AFCD has received 1,117 applications for ex-gratia allowances (for loss of fishing grounds), while the number of qualified applications was only 269. There were also a series of protests in late December by one faction of the fishing community trying to leverage even higher payouts, who even threatened to ignore the trawling ban. Thankfully AFCD has not been so easily bluffed.
 
 
Any offender convicted of trawling is liable to a maximum penalty of a fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for six months.  AFCD has beefed up its enforcement capabilities and will enforce the ban with Marine Police. There will still be trawlers based in Hong Kong ports that will travel to mainland waters to fish, but if you see any with their nets down please call AFCD at 2150 7108 or 1823 Call Centre to report the vessel.
 
The main benefits of the trawl ban will be i) recovery of the living community of soft-corals, sponges etc. that has been obliterated by bottom-trawling and ii) a decrease in the total amount of fishing by 80%, greatly increasing the odds of fish and invertebrates like crabs and lobster reaching adult sizes and reproducing. The potential for heavily overfished populations to dramatically rebound in a short space of time is major, and research that I commissioned from the University of British Columbia while at WWF suggests that populations of squid and cuttlefish should grow by 40 % and reef fish by 10-20 % during the next five years, while larger fish, such as croaker and grouper, should expand by up to 45 %. 
 
 
However, these should just be the start. Providing that AFCD uses the new registration scheme for the remaining smaller vessels optimally, and does not allow them to simply expand their fishing activities and cream off all the increases in fish stocks, the ecosystem will continue to readjust and recover for decades. AFCD tells me that so far they have received 2,200 applications to register local fishing vessels.
 
One change that I eagerly await, is a crash in sea urchin populations as the predatory fishes such as the Blackspot tuskfish that once used to dine on the small ones start to recover in number and size. Here’s a link to an article I wrote years ago on the subject.
 
 
However, society and the fishing community will not reap the full anticipated benefits until the Environment Bureau does its part and bans commercial fishing in our four marine parks. Unbelievably, several hundred commercial fishermen still have licenses to fish without limits in these so-called conservation zones, which is no doubt why research I conducted from 1997 to 2007 showed that coral fish populations within the marine parks were not recovering.     
 
This measure to turn the parks from private commercial fishing havens to the sanctuaries they should be, was pledged by the Chief Executive in 2008, but rejected by Legco shortly afterwards due to insufficient consultation with the fishing community. Four years have since passed, more than enough time for consultation and negotiations on appropriate compensation for loss of fishing grounds.
 
Now is the time for government to finally bring the necessary legislative changes to ban commercial fishing in our marine parks – covering 2% of our sea – to Legco, for the betterment of Hong Kong.
 
Andy

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