Irresponsible Fishery

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Irresponsible Fishery

In a recent letter to Nature (Watson and Pauly, 2001), it was suggested that the state of global fisheries is even worse than is generally believed. The article claims that (mainland) China has consistently and significantly over-reported annual production to the Food and Agriculture Organization (the international body responsible for compiling global fishery figures), thereby inflating world fishery production. While China is by no means the only country implicated, the fact that she is a major fishing nation means that her figures have a disproportionately large impact on estimates of global production. These estimates are used to judge the state of world fisheries and to make decisions about management and the appropriate levels of investment in fishery operations by governments, banks and private enterprise. In other words these production figures are critical for sustainable resource use.

The responsibility to manage fisheries within each country’s exclusive economic zone is enshrined in the Law of the Sea and reliable monitoring of production is an essential step towards good management. In 1995, a voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was adopted by many nations to encourage and guide ecologically sustainable fisheries. With China a signatory of the Code, the government of Hong Kong claims to have adopted measures in line with its principles. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of progress. Local fisheries are overfished and unmanaged, production not meaningfully monitored and there is no obvious government research programme on local fishery resources. Despite plans for a licensing system and fishery protection areas there appear to be no means of scientifically establishing the appropriate number of licences and fishery protected areas will not necessarily be protected from fishing. Nor is there any genuine attempt to restore depleted stocks, for even when fishery experts are contracted, their advice is not heeded. As an example, the principle recommendation from top fishery experts of the University of British Columbia to address overfishing in Hong Kong was reduction in fishing effort (Pitcher et al. 1998). Instead, we see the implementation of expensive, controversial fishery restoration tools, restocking and unprotected artificial reefs.

There is little excuse for the current absence of management. It cannot be lack of money, for millions are being spent on artificial reefs and importing fish for restocking. It cannot be concern for livelihoods, for many more could now be supported if management had been implemented a decade ago. The sad truth is that either nobody realizes, or, more likely, few really care, about the state of the local fishery. This produces a mere 10% of the seafood consumed in Hong Kong and is effectively sustained by demand for fish feed (much of which then pollutes inshore waters) for mariculture operations (Wilson, 1997; AFCD website; Cheung, 2001). When will it sink in that supplies of fish are not endless and that we must learn to live within their natural limits? Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on unproven and expensive schemes, it is time to be responsible in the management and use of local resources.


Cheung, W.L. (2001). Changes in Hong Kong’s Capture Fisheries during the 20th Century and Reconstruction of the Marine Ecosystem of Local Inshore Waters in the 1950s. M.Phil. Thesis. The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. 186 p.

Pitcher, T.J., Watson, R., Courtney, A. and Pauly, D. (1998). Assessment of Hong Kong’s inshore fishery resources. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 6(1): 81p.

Watson R. and Pauly, D.( 2001). Systematic distortions in world fisheries catch trends. Nature 414: 534-536

Wilson, K. 1997. The Hong Kong marine fish culture industry – challenges for sustainable development. Proceedings 1st International Symposium Marine Conservation Hong Kong pp. 86-97.

Yvonne Sadovy

The Chocolate Hind, Cephalopholis boenak (Drawing by Liu Min). Elsewhere considered to be of little commercial value, this small species is one of the only groupers still taken regularly in local waters. Overfishing has depleted the many larger, more valuable, species, once common in local catches.




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