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 may not be enough

Interview in Action Asia
February 8, 2013

I was interviewed for the following Action Asia article
January 1, 2013 marked the onset of a complete trawling ban and a new era for marine conservation in Hong Kong. But how far is the government committed to monitoring the new law?
 
The ban is a courageous measure to bring the city’s marine ecosystem back from the brink of collapse. Aside from being an important habitat for the Chinese white dolphin, Hong Kong is also home to a surprising range of living reef communities, with 10 out of its 84 hard coral species first discovered in local waters.
 
Enforcement lies with Marine Police, who will be stepping up joint patrols with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Anyone caught trawling illegally faces a hefty fine of HK$200,000 and a six-month jail sentence.
 
Independent ecologist Dr Andy Cornish, who served as Hong Kong’s WWF Conservation Director from 2005 to 2012, played an instrumental role in leading the long campaign for the trawling ban. Now that the legislation is in place, he believes the next step is to ban commercial fishing in the four existing marine parks. Under the current system, hundreds of commercial fishermen are licensed to fish without limits in these areas, which cover only 2% of Hong Kong waters. Recent surveys found that fish numbers here have shown no sign of recovery.
 
“The major potential barrier now to banning commercial fishing is Legco [Hong Kong’s Legislative Council],” Dr Cornish says. Previous measures to pass a ban in 2008 were rejected by the Council on the grounds that there was not enough consultation with the fishing community. “The Environmental Affairs Panel needs to show support when the subject is brought to the panel by the Environment Bureau, tentatively in April. Writing to the Panel to support the measure could really help.”
 
Dr Cornish also hopes to see the marine park network expanded to cover 10% of Hong Kong waters, but earlier proposals have had a lukewarm response. In 2002 the waters around the Soko Islands were proposed and endorsed as a marine park, with a timetable for gazettal later that year and designation in early 2003. Inexplicably, the plan was quietly dropped.
 
Ten years later, marine parks are now seen by some as a solution to lessen the impact of large-scale infrastructure projects, particularly in the waters around Lantau. “The only plans to enlarge the marine parks at present are at the Brother’s Islands in 2014, as mitigation for the Macau-Zhuhai-Hong Kong Bridge, and at the Soko Islands as mitigation for the incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau, if that goes ahead,” Dr Cornish adds. “This is a very bad way to design a marine protected area network.”

What you can do
If you see any trawlers with their nets down in Hong Kong waters, call the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department at 2150 7108 or the 1823 Call Centre to report the vessel.
 
Write a letter to the Environmental Affairs Panel before April to express your support for banning commercial fishing in marine parks, and their expansion to 10% of local waters. Letters can be emailed to the Legislative Council Secretariat www.legco.gov.hk/english/contact.htm and should indicate they are for the Environmental Affairs Panel.
 

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