Fishing the waters of Hong Kong

Wherever you go in Hong Kong, it seems that if you can get to the water, you will see someone fishing.

You can find them on the busy waterfront promenades of the New Towns.

Fishing from the Tolo Harbour promenade at Ma On Shan

You can find them on the empty shores of the Outlying Islands.

Fishing near Hung Shing Yeh beach

You can even find a few hardy types in tiny dinghies, dodging massive ships in the middle of Victoria Harbour.

Tiny little fishing boat off Hung Hom

One thing in common with all these fishermen is the size of their catch: these tiny palm sized fish are someone’s dinner tonight.

Catch of the day for local fishermen at Ma On Shan

So why is their catch so small? Overfishing is the reason: a common problem around the world. In Hong Kong there are approximately 3700 fishing vessels, most are sampans and small fishing boats engaged in inshore fishing, but the real damage is caused by the 1100 or so large commercial trawlers.

Fishing boat in the West Lamma Channel, Hong Kong

For decades fishing has been an important part of the economy of the Outlying Islands, with Hong Kong’s modern commercial fishing industry taking off after the Second World War to help feed the growing city.

Sampan passes the bigger fishing boats mooted at Cheung Chau

Even with increased urbanisation of Hong Kong, a number of traditional fishing villages still survive, such as this one beside the New Town of Tung Chung on Lantau Island.

Modern apartment blocks tower above the old fishing village on Tung Chung Bay

Despite the environmental impact of commercial fishing, the industry still employs around 8200 fishermen in Hong Kong, with further people employed repairing and maintaining the fishing fleet back on land.

Fishing boats under repair at the Cheung Chau slipways

As seen with the tiny fish caught by recreational fishermen, the effects of overfishing in Hong Kong are obvious: by the mid 1990s the mean size of fish taken by trawlers was <10 grams, with an average length of about 10 centimetres (4 inches). A government study in 1998 found that 12 of the 17 evaluated fish species were heavily over-exploited, while the remaining five were fully exploited; and in 2006 another government report found that the annual Hong Kong catch of 26,700 tonnes was 30% higher than the maximum sustainable annual yield of 20,500 tonnes.Fishing boat towing a net in the West Lamma Channel, Hong Kong

For these reasons in 2010 the Hong Kong Executive Council recommended a ban on trawling activities in Hong Kong waters, along with a voluntary one-off buy-out scheme for trawlers affected by the ban. Expected to reduce the fish catch in local waters by more than 40% – from 26,700 tonnes to 14,700 tonnes – the legislation was passed in May 2011 and will take effect from December 31, 2012. The trawler buyout scheme is costed at HK$1.72 billion (US$219 million), with payments of US$115,000 to $705,000 for each vessel purchased by the government, as well as one-off grants to affected local deckhands.

Fishing boat off Sunshine Island in Hong Kong

I’m guessing by the next time I visit Hong Kong fishing boats I’ll see less fishing boats, but hopefully some bigger fish.

Further reading

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6 Responses to Fishing the waters of Hong Kong

  1. no cheese says:

    Nice photo essay, Marcus. I’m always amazed at how recreational fishermen reach the most unlikely spots. It’s like a national sport! And thanks for the link.

    • Marcus says:

      My Dad is just the same over in Australia – his favourite fishing spots are an hour and a half drive from home and down a steep hillside, even through we live 15 minutes from the water.

      On thing that is different is our definitions of ‘undersized’ fish – my relatives came over from Hong Kong a few months back and they were amazed at what my Dad was happy to throw back in the water, because he knew much bigger fish were out there.

  2. Helen Glover says:

    The trawling in the Tolo Harbour is now intense. Every day, for the whole day, 2 trawlers are double-trawling the harbour with a very long net. There can’t be anything left… We moved here in December 2010 and it’s now July 2012; these 2 boats have been active almost continually. The harbour will be dead very soon, long before the ban on such trawling takes effect…

  3. Matthieu says:

    A trawling ban was luckily implemented in 2013. You now need a permit to trawl for scientific purposes, trawling for commercial purposes is completely illegal.

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