Compensation to fishing industry is key to unlocking massive economic benefits to Hong Kong concludes WWF-UBC report

Posted 08 March 2007
8 March 2007
A new study has concluded that Hong Kong would be missing a major economic opportunity by not acting swiftly to revitalize its marine fisheries. The study, "Rebuilding Hong Kong's Marine Fisheries: An Evaluation of Management Options," commissioned by WWF Hong Kong and undertaken by the world-renowned Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia (UBC) was released today. Among the key findings are that WWF's proposed changes to fisheries management could generate HK$1.3 to HK$2.6 billion over the next 25 years of net benefits to Hong Kong in comparison with current fisheries management, through revitalised fish stocks, more profitable fisheries, and new tourism and recreational opportunities in north-eastern waters.

This report collated opinions from fishers, recreational fishing, diving and marine-related tourism operators, and government officials on a variety of management scenarios from the current "hands-off approach", to recent proposals by government and WWF. Using complex ecosystem modelling, the potential impact of each scenario on the different fishing groups and sectors in Hong Kong waters was studied.

The study found that 54% of interviewed fishers were willing to switch jobs from fishing, with the remaining 46% stating that they would not consider it. This result implies that there is a good potential for well-designed alternative livelihood schemes to succeed. Also, a total of 75% of the interviewed fishers were willing to participate in a buy-back scheme if they were reasonably compensated for their vessels. These numbers show that a significant number of the fishers are willing to switch from fishing with the right buy-back package put in place.

"The cost-benefit analysis in this report justifies major investment by government to resolve the fisheries crisis in Hong Kong and start restoring our much-damaged marine ecosystem. This report is unique in that it has comprehensively canvassed the views of the fishermen themselves. It shows that the fishing community is willing to accept new fisheries restrictions provided they are adequately compensated for lost livelihood. Let us not miss this opportunity," said Mr. Markus Shaw, WWF Hong Kong Chairman. "It's time for the government to invest in training, create job opportunities for the fishermen who wish to switch their jobs to non-fishing industries as well as develop a vessel buy-back scheme with reasonable compensation for the fishermen who wish to leave the industry, and ex-gratia payments for those affected by the new management. The government should fast-track the rebuilding of Hong Kong's fisheries, while ensuring livelihood issues of the fishing community are addressed."

There was overall strong support among dive and recreational operators for a total ban of fishing in marine parks, with 86% of all respondents either agreeing or strongly agreeing with this proposal. All marine tourism operators agreed with a total ban of fishing in marine parks. Around half of the alternative livelihood operators thought their businesses would benefit from no-take marine parks

"The net economic and conservation benefits to Hong Kong society of achieving sustainable fisheries is huge. This report provides a road-map that government and other stakeholders can use to choose the best scenario to rebuild the local fisheries without further delay. The most urgent requirement is to introduce a fishing license scheme whereby all commercial fishing vessels are licensed, to enable the government for the first time to control the total numbers of vessels fishing in Hong Kong waters, prevent newcomers, and stop poaching by mainland vessels: all these protect the interests of Hong Kong fishermen," added Mr Shaw.

"The study clearly demonstrates that moving away from the current status quo management, i.e., largely open access and unregulated fisheries, will provide long term benefits to both Hong Kong's fishers and society. The resulting short term reduction in fishing effort that restoration will require will have to be addressed with the implementation of appropriately designed alternative livelihood programmes and buy-back schemes. With regards to alternative employment, current marine or fishing related options are not appropriate to accommodate the number of potentially displaced fishers. Thus, government and fishers will have to look for additional job opportunities outside the marine/fishing sectors," concluded Dr Rashid Sumaila, Associate Professor and Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia.

Speakers at the press conference included report authors Mr William Cheung and Dr Rashid Sumaila, Associate Professor and Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, and Mr Markus Shaw, WWF Kong Kong Chairman.