Back in 2013 in response to increasing concerns about the health of our oceans, we indicated our intention to expand ADMCF’s marine work beyond shark conservation, which had been a focus since 2009. Asia is at the centre of a global sustainability crisis, a crisis that is of fundamental importance to the livelihoods and well-being of billions of people.
Working closely with fisheries experts, marine biologists, ecologists, conservationists and the industry we developed a broader but targeted marine strategy. In summary, the strategy is based upon a multifaceted approach to address the challenges we face in managing and conserving our marine resources.
We found that there was a need to raise awareness throughout Asia on seafood sustainability. Hong Kong, being a more developed market in comparison to Asia as a whole, was the obvious place to start the conversation. We identified the sectors most needing work as consumers, retail, food and beverage, and fisheries in terms of management. In order to have the biggest impact in raising the profile of sustainable seafood, research into how these sectors would be affected was paramount.
Hong Kong imports 90% of its seafood and 22% comes from the South China Sea (SCS), so we are heavily reliant on this region for food security. The SCS is one of the most productive fishing zones in the world and ranks in the top five for annual marine production. Its fisheries are crucial for supporting coastal livelihoods, food security and export trade in bordering countries, which are home to two billion people and represent some of the fastest developing economies of the world. Unfortunately, these fisheries are threatened by pollution, coastal habitat modification and excessive and destructive fishing practices.
With intensive pressure on the fish stocks as population and demand rises, it’s no wonder the area’s marine resources have been fished down to 5-30% of their levels in the 1950s. Coral reefs are estimated to be declining at a rate of 16% per decade and catches of some iconic species such as the Humphead Wrasse have declined by almost 100% in the last 8 years in some places. Because of these shocking figures, ADM Capital Foundation, along with RS Group, commissioned the University of British Columbia Fisheries Economics Research Unit and Changing Ocean Research Unit to undertake a comprehensive review of the threats to the SCS and determine what its marine systems, fisheries and seafood supply may look like in the next 30 years under different climate change and management scenarios.
The following graphic presents a summary of the research and finds that if business continues as usual, by 2045 compared to now, the following is likely to occur:
By contrast, under a sustainable management scenario, by 2045 there will be a significantly positive impact on biodiversity in comparison to business as usual. However, catch of about 63% of the animal groups studied will have to decrease in order to achieve this. This research shows that there is a clear need for sustainability in the SCS.
Unfortunately, in Asia there is a general lack of awareness that our fish stocks are in trouble and there are still many people who draw a blank when you mention sustainable seafood.
In a survey conducted by WWF in 2014, 1 in 3 people in Hong Kong had never heard of sustainable seafood, and over half said they would not know where to go to buy or consume sustainable seafood. We thought this had to change, so we enlisted the help of Ocean Recovery Alliance, with funding from the Swire Trust, to put together a sustainable seafood festival for the month of November 2015 (when the above report was due to be released).
This we named the ‘Kin Hong Seafood Festival’ as Kin Hong means healthy in Chinese. This is meant to stress both the health of the seafood itself and also the manner in which it was caught; healthy for the oceans.
We enlisted 27 leading restaurants, hotels and catering companies to serve at least one certified sustainable dish for the duration of the month. Some of them, like Cali-Mex, even changed their entire menu to sustainable seafood options, vowing to maintain that after the event ended.
Also this year, we were commissioned by the Hong Kong Airport Authority to, in partnership with several others, conduct research into the Live Reef Food Fish Trade (LRFFT). There has been growing international concern over the LRFFT and with Hong Kong International Airport’s commitment to being the world’s greenest airport, they needed to understand the implications of their corporate responsibility commitments and those of their business partners, such as airlines.
Air carriers play a critical role in the LRFFT as it is the principal mode of transport for live seafood brought into Hong Kong. Between 2003 and 2013, these accounted for about 61% of all recorded live fish imports and 50% of the high value/most threatened species.
The trade itself has an estimated retail value of over US$1 billion. Currently, the LRFFT is largely reliant on sourcing from unmanaged and poorly regulated fisheries throughout Southeast Asia, and as a result in many areas it is biologically unsustainable and ecologically damaging. Many of the most highly valued species are threatened with extinction if trends continue and they are inherently vulnerable to overfishing. This has given rise to concerns over food security in the developing source countries.
This trade can in some cases be completely illegal as well as unsustainable. The Humphead Wrasse is particularly sought after due to its high value in the trade. It is, however, listed on CITES Appendix II and as such its trade is highly restricted.
Permits are required for the legal limit of 1,800 wrasse exported from Indonesia per year, but curiously around 50,000 wrasse are sold in China every year. Obviously there is much illegal trade. We will use this report to encourage airlines to increase their monitoring, transparency and the practice of “knowing your cargo” in regards to the LRFFT, as well as increasing general awareness of the illegal aspects of the trade.
Written by Emily Botsford