SCMP Monday, July 31, 2000

Man-made reefs 'threat to catches'

AVIS TSANG and NG TZE WEI


Land reclamation, dredging and artificial reefs are destroying fish farms and undermining catches at sea, fishermen claim.

The reefs, deployed in 1998, are aimed at restoring the fish population by providing food, shelter and nursery grounds.

But Hong Kong Fishery Alliance chairman Keung Yin-man said the reefs only provided a living space for species that stayed in the same habitats, while more than 80 per cent of fish caught in Hong Kong were seasonal species that travelled widely.

"Hong Kong's geographical location is not suitable for deploying artificial reefs," he said. "Theoretically, the idea of reef deployment is good, but its application in Hong Kong does not achieve very good results, and it may further worsen the problem of water pollution."

Mr Keung said artificial reefs obstructed the flow of water out of the Zhujiang (Pearl River) delta and trapped silt and other waste material, further polluting SAR waters.

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokesman said there was no doubt the reefs had dramatically increased both the abundance and diversity of fish in marine parks. "Seasonal fish lay eggs during the summer and the reefs provided shelters for them to hatch," he said.

The spokesman said some 63 species had been identified and more than 30,000 fish were counted at one reef site.

Mr Keung said fishermen were also unhappy about 21 reclamation projects due to be carried out in fishing areas. These include works in west Lamma and Ma Wan channels, and reclamation at Penny's Bay for the Disneyland project.

Mr Keung said: "These projects involve reclamation, mud dredging and mud dumping, and they are located near our fish farms or fishing areas. They would definitely cause water pollution, which would then affect our livelihood."

The Government has acknowledged potential adverse effects from some of the projects but negotiations with fishermen, started early this month, have not reached an agreement on compensation.

Only licensed fishermen are allowed to fish in marine parks at Sha Chau, Yan Chau Tong and Hoi Ha Wan, but a plan is under way to ban fishing in these parks in future. More marine parks are being planned off Sai Kung and Grass Island.

There are 12,900 fishermen and 3,700 fish farm operators in Hong Kong. Last year, fish production amounted to 134,000 tonnes, of which 128,000 tonnes were caught at sea and the rest from fish farms.

World Wild Fund for Nature senior conservation officer Alex Yau Shuk-kau said the claim that the reefs trapped dirt was "far-fetched". "Artificial reefs take time to grow," she said. "One main purpose of artificial reef deployment is to prevent bottom-trawling, the most destructive fishing method which churns the seabed and destroys the habitat of many." Fishermen could not use trawling nets because the reefs would entangle them.