Hong Kong’s Taste For Seafood Putting Oceans In Danger

August 12, 2015

NewsStandOnline.Net (12-August-2015): A seafood lunch in Hong Kong is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, but with threatened species on the menu and fishing practices that endanger marine life, campaigners want to change the city’s appetite.

Hong Kong is the second-largest consumer of seafood per capita in Asia, an average resident consumes 71.2 kilograms (157 pounds) of seafood each year, more than four times the global average, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong.

Yet the city of 7 million has been forced to become one of the biggest seafood importers in the world as local waters are depleted of fish stocks.

Hong Kong’s Taste For Seafood Putting Oceans In Danger

Whether in high-end restaurants or waterside eateries, seafood is ubiquitous in the southern Chinese city, where customers often choose their fish live from a tank.

Baked lobster with noodles in cheese and deep-fried prawns in salted egg yolk are among local favorites.

But a “fish tank index” compiled by WWF Hong Kong found that more than 50 percent of the species available in the city’s traditional restaurant tanks were from “highly unsustainable” sources.

“Overfishing is driving the collapse of the world’s ocean fish stocks and edging many types of fish toward extinction, yet they are still on our menus,” WWF Hong Kong conservation director Gavin Edwards said.

“Hong Kong has a special responsibility to turn the tide as one of the biggest consumers of seafood.”

Unsustainable fish include those caught by controversial fishing practices, such as using cyanide poison, or from overfishing already depleted species.

Popular, threatened seafood in Hong Kong include grouper, wild sea cucumber and humphead wrasse, a coral reef fish.

It also recently held a “Sustainable Seafood Week” asking restaurants to provide ocean-friendly options.

Some suppliers are also trying to help.

Banker-turned-fish farmer Mark Kwok hopes that by farming groupers, which are on the decline in the ocean, he can help stem the crisis.

His farm in the northern hillside town of Yuen Long was accredited as sustainable by the WWF in 2013.

“We have about 35,000 fish. Even if you were to eat all of them, it wouldn’t make a dent in the ecosystem because these are farmed fish that have never seen the ocean,” he said.

Environmentalists in the Philippines say stocks of grouper are dwindling near the island of Palawan, a major source for Hong Kong.

“We have fishermen who say they used to catch them near the coast. But now, they have to go further out to sea,” said Melo Ponce De Leon, spokeswoman of the government’s Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

Some Hong Kong restaurateurs worry that changing their menus would dent their incomes.

“Many of our customers are from mainland China and they want to get something they have never seen before,” says Ng Wai-lun, one of the owners of Chuen Kee Seafood Restaurant on Sai Kung’s promenade.

“They like to pick the colorful ones . . . or something caught fresh from the wild,” said Ng, pointing out a tank of humphead wrasse and groupers.

Ng says he would have to scrap 70 percent of the menu to make it ocean-friendly, something he fears would drive customers away.

But campaigners say progress has been made.

“We found in a recent survey that 80 percent of customers would not buy unsustainable seafood if they knew it was unsustainable,” says Edwards.

“There is more awareness, but we still have much further to go.”