Hong Kong fish im­port data full of holes

Action Asia - - NEWS & VIEWS -

THOUGH SUS­TAIN­ABLE Seafood Week and shark fin bans have made some Hong Kong con­sumers more care­ful when choos­ing their seafood, it ap­pears there is some way to go be­fore this has a mean­ing­ful im­pact on the seafood im­ported into the ter­ri­tory. Ac­cord­ing to the Septem­ber 2017 Live Reef Food Fish Wet Mar­ket Re­port Sur­vey, 17 threat­ened fish species were on sale in Hong Kong’s wet mar­kets. Th­ese in­clude the Hump­head Wrasse and Hong Kong Grouper – both con­sid­ered del­i­ca­cies in a num­ber of Asian cul­tures – that have been listed as en­dan­gered on the IUCN Red List since 2004 and 2003 re­spec­tively. As a global hub for the live reef food fish (LRFF) trade, Hong Kong im­ports and, in cases, re-ex­ports fish from more than 40 dif­fer­ent coun­tries – in­clud­ing In­done­sia, Aus­tralia and the Mal­dives – worth more than HK$2.5 mil­lion on im­port an­nu­ally. De­spite warn­ings against con­sum­ing en­dan­gered species, th­ese fish still find their way to mar­ket il­le­gally as a re­sult of out­dated reg­u­la­tions, le­gal loop­holes, in­ad­e­quate mon­i­tor­ing – par­tic­u­larly those that ar­rive by sea – as well as de­lib­er­ate mis­re­port­ing by traders, trans­port and lo­gis­tic man­agers. Re­lent­less over­ex­ploita­tion of LRFF is es­pe­cially prob­lem­atic in species that ex­hibit late sex­ual mat­u­ra­tion, longevity and slow growth. Pop­u­la­tions of the afore­men­tioned Hump­head Wrasse and co­ral groupers, for in­stance, dropped by 80% since the turn of the cen­tury, ac­cord­ing to a phys.org ar­ti­cle in 2015. Ad­di­tion­ally, de­struc­tive prac­tices like dy­na­mite and cyanide fish­ing can harm corals and fur­ther af­fect reefde­pen­dent pop­u­la­tions. Hong Kong-li­censed fish car­ri­ers – large ships also known as reefers that typ­i­cally lack fish­ing gear of their own – are a ma­jor fac­tor in this dam­ag­ing trade. Th­ese ships pick up from far-flung fish­ing fleets and ferry the fish to Hong Kong. Un­til 2007, th­ese car­ri­ers were treated as fish­ing ves­sels and were ex­empt from im­port dec­la­ra­tions to the Cen­sus and Sta­tis­tics Depart­ment. The Marine Depart­ment clar­i­fied the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion more than a decade ago and threat­ened to levy a fine of up to HK$2 mil­lion and im­prison own­ers for up to seven years should car­ri­ers fail to re­port im­port num­bers. But to date, there isn’t a func­tion­ing sys­tem that tracks their bor­der cross­ings, making en­force­ment nearly im­pos­si­ble. Cur­rently there are known to be 30 or so fish­ing car­ri­ers cruis­ing in and out of Hong Kong waters once or twice a month. Dr Yvonne Sadovy, lead au­thor of the re­port ‘The trade in live reef food fish – Go­ing, go­ing gone’ pub­lished by ADM Capital and Hong Kong Univer­sity, said she has ev­i­dence that some of th­ese ves­sels are not be­ing tracked by the sys­tem. “We al­ready have am­ple ev­i­dence from a range of sources that some of th­ese ves­sels are not re­port­ing their cargo, and this is made par­tic­u­larly eas­ier by the fact that they don’t have to re­port their en­try or exit,” she says. “This is po­ten­tially a prob­lem be­cause this means there’s no way for the Gov­ern­ment to ac­tu­ally know whether they’re re­port­ing or not, be­cause they can’t trace who came in on a cer­tain date, and within 14 days whether they have re­ported a dec­la­ra­tion or man­i­fest.” WWF-HONG Kong’s Man­ager of Oceans Sus­tain­abil­ity, Allen To, said reg­u­la­tion shouldn’t be dif­fi­cult, given the few car­ri­ers. “Un­like lo­cal fish­ing ves­sels, which come in and out of Hong Kong ev­ery sin­gle day so it is still rea­son­able to ex­empt them from re­port­ing en­try and exit, there are only 30 or so of th­ese li­censed car­ri­ers that are usu­ally back once or twice in a month,” says To. “And most im­por­tantly, they are re­garded as im­port. So why doesn’t the Marine Depart­ment re­quire their ex­act ar­rival date and time, just like with other large cargo ves­sels?” Yet even after years of pe­ti­tion­ing from the likes of WWF and Dr Sadovy, the gov­ern­ment has yet to take ac­tion or even of­fer a con­crete plan. When we con­tacted Hong Kong cus­toms, they ac­knowl­edged the il­le­gal­ity of trans­port­ing LRFF but ig­nored our ques­tion on the pos­si­ble mon­i­tor­ing of bor­der cross­ings. Sus­tain­abil­ity re­quires col­lec­tive ef­fort from sup­pli­ers, re­tail­ers and con­sumers. If the ef­fort is lim­ited to the lat­ter two par­ties as the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to sit on the side­lines, no real change can hap­pen. For the time be­ing, con­sumers should con­sider down­load­ing a sus­tain­able seafood guide, ask­ing your waiter where the catch comes from, and head­ing to WWF and Choose Right web­sites for tips on stay­ing away from en­dan­gered species.

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