For those of you who have read the Foundation’s newsletter over the years, you will know that since 2007 our marine conservation work has focused on supporting efforts to reduce shark fin consumption in Hong Kong.
The fin trade is recognised as driving the dramatic decline in shark populations, which as apex predators are fundamental to the stability of the marine ecosystem.
This support has involved working with international and local NGOs on research as well as implementing public and corporate campaigns to raise awareness and reduce consumption.
Significant momentum has been gained by these organisations. We estimate that by the end of 2012, 60 percent of five-star hotels in Hong Kong had either banned shark fin or taken it off menus; leading corporates such as Bank of China have banned it at corporate functions; and towards the end of the year, Cathay Pacific Airways said it would only carry sustainably sourced fins. An estimated 10 percent of fins are imported by air into Hong Kong.
As public opinion has shifted in favour of more sustainable alternatives, we and others, have begun to lobby government for a policy banning shark fin consumption across the public sector. This would be a strategic move with regard to future policy advocacy for possible trade regulation.
While Hong Kong has a relatively small population at around seven million, the lack of regulation of the shark fin trade here contributes to its global impact on marine biodiversity.
Hong Kong’s role in the fin trade, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Our impact on marine biodiversity goes far beyond sharks. Thus, ADMCF is looking to expand its marine conservation portfolio beyond these important taxa and also beyond Hong Kong.
Close to home – an unregulated trade
Hong Kong has one of the highest seafood consumption rates in the world at 71.6kg/capita (2009) and we import significant quantities of seafood, both for our own consumption and as a gateway to China.
In addition to shark fin, we know that Hong Kong also is a global leader in the live reef fish food trade, the trade in abalone and the trade in sea cucumber. There are also likely other species to consider, although without additional research, this is difficult to ascertain.
Many species readily traded through our ports with no regulation and limited traceability are globally threatened as a result of overfishing.
In recent years, the local NGO community repeatedly has raised concerns over specific issues, including the unregulated import of endangered species into Hong Kong. These include bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, South African abalone, sharks and live reef fish.
These issues, while often raised individually, are all the result of the same systemic issue; the government does not take the steps needed to ensure the sustainability of its burgeoning seafood trade.
Hong Kong’s Government has not signed or acceded to several key international treaties and agreements that others in the region, including China, are a party to, despite questions raised in international forums.
While other countries are trying to manage imports of seafood, putting in place traceability systems and signing conventions and agreements to address Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU), Hong Kong appears to have done little.
Its seafood trade is all but unregulated – with the exception of 15 marine species including seven species of highly threatened sawfish under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between Governments. Indeed, some experts believe that once a species has made it to CITES, it’s already too late.
Food security – counting the numbers
Looking beyond Hong Kong’s borders, Asia is undoubtedly at the centre of concerns over declining fish populations worldwide, because of vast and increasing consumption and production.
Consuming: In 1961 world fish consumption was 27.8 million tonnes, by 2011 it reached 130.8 million tonnes.
Asia consumes large quantities of seafood and by 2009 accounted for two-thirds of global consumption at 85.6 million tonnes (20.8 kg per capita), of which 43 million tonnes was consumed outside China (15.5 kg per capita). All of the word’s 57 top fish consuming nations are in Asia, bar six.
To maintain at least current levels of consumption globally, it is estimated that an additional 23 million tonnes will be required in just seven years.
Producing: In 1961, total world fish production was just 39 million tonnes, by 2011 it was 154 million.
Asia also dominates many aspects of fisheries production accounting for two thirds of global production. In 2009, the region produced nearly 97 million tonnes of seafood, an increase of 30 percent in just ten years. Indeed, of the world’s ten leading producers, six are in Asia: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, India and Myanmar.
China, which is expected to pull an additional 300 million people out of rural poverty and into relative urban affluence over coming decades, is central to the equation.
Already over the past 50 years, its share in world fish production rose from an average of 7 percent in 1961 to 35 percent in 2010, largely fueled by growth in aquaculture.
In fact, production is increasing largely as a result of aquaculture. China now produces more than 60 percent of the world’s aquaculture by volume, while Asia as a whole accounts for 89 percent.
World aquaculture production reached an all-time high in 2010 and about 40 percent of global production now is farmed.
Paradoxically, this is not taking pressure off our oceans as many people believe. Fishmeal itself contains fish and for marine fishmeal production, around 4-5 kg of live marine fish are required to produce one kg of fishmeal.
The volume of fish finally produced then depends on the conversion efficiency of the fish , which for salmon as an example is about 1.25. About 20% of total fish capture is used for fish meal.
As regards capture fisheries, in 2009 73% of the world’s fishing fleet, estimated at 4.36 million fishing vessels, were Asian.
This massive and growing consumption has meant that most of the stocks of the top ten species, which account for about 30 percent of world marine capture fisheries production are fully exploited and have no potential for increases in production.
Of fish stocks assessed recently by FAO, 54 percent were estimated fully exploited, 29.9 percent over-exploited, and 12.7 non-fully exploited.
Our fishing capacity, meanwhile, is estimated to be as much as two to four times what we need to harvest the sustainable yield catch from the world’s fisheries.
Not surprisingly, declining fish stocks are a concern worldwide and particularly so in Asia where there is less stock and catch data, transparency is low and fisheries management is lacking.
In 2009 for example, about 60% of countries in Asia could or did not provide adequate data submissions to the FAO for its annual assessment.
Despite the importance of fish to food security – there remains much uncertainty as to stocks and catch data. The Indian Ocean sub region is a case in point.
Of the data available, FAO assessments indicate that stocks in the region are in some areas largely depleted and overfished such as the Western South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
As leading marine experts note, recent research suggest that catches, with the exception of domestic catches by China, are under reported by about 100%-500% in many developing countries and by 30-50% in developed ones.
All in all, Asia is at the centre of a global sustainability challenge – and one that is of fundamental importance to the livelihoods and wellbeing of billions of people.
Where we are headed
Thus, we are looking beyond our work on sharks to develop a marine strategy with a focus on the region as well as Hong Kong. We are currently working with fisheries experts, marine biologists, ecologists, conservationists and the industry to develop a strategy that will address some of the issues raised above.
We also recognize that there are extremely limited funds allocated to marine conservation in the region. This comes despite the fundamental importance to the well-being of a great many people and the biodiversity of one of our most important resources.
Through a broader but targeted strategy we hope to attract both local and international donors to leverage our own funding and ultimately impact in addressing these significant marine challenges.
Note – data and statistics quoted are primarily from the FAO:
· The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012
· Fisheries and Aquaculture Statistics, FAO Year book 2010, published 2012
· Review of the State of world marine fishery resources FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 569\
· Status and Potential of Fisheries and aquaculture in Asia and the pacific 2010, Asia pacific Fishery Commission, 2010.
 Feed Efficiency Indicators for Responsible Aquaculture, Global Aquaculture Advocate, December 2005
 D. Pauly, Does Catch Reflect Abundance, Nature, Vol 494 pp203