Hong Kong's enormous appetite for seafood and its role as a hub for the global seafood trade is impacting endangered fish species.
Chinese cuisine prizes seafood so it’s perhaps not surprising the average per capita seafood consumption in Hong Kong is 70 kilos per year, about four times the global average.
But the city is also a hub for trade into mainland China where consumption is on the rise...
As Mark Godfrey reports, rising levels of consumption are putting a strain on endangered underwater species, and driving an unexpected sustainability push.
It’s a busy Saturday morning at Hong Kong’s giant Aberdeen Fish Market with traders milling around buying seafood for restaurants and retailers in the city.
One of the dealers here is Betty Chu who runs a distributor called Family Care Ltd, which imports seafood from all over the world.
“The market is really good. People are looking for prime products, health conscious, and they’re willing to pay more for better food,” says Chu, “We import globally like lobster, scallop, abalone, shrimp, crabs and all, it’s a lot! My business is good, it’s growing every year.”
But while business is good, some of the city’s seafood traders are also favor a switch to sustainable seafood.
Wong Ping Chai runs the Hoi Kee Ho Fresh Seafood import company. He started to seek out sustainable seafood several years ago when a Dutch supplier explained to him that many fish species were becoming scarce.
Now he has joined Fish and Season, a global fish trading network that only trades sustainable seafood.
“Fish and Season is an organisation originally from Holland they started around 1992. They found out in Europe the fish are getting fewer and fewer and if it goes on it will be disastrous,” he says, “My company is already in Hong Kong for 80 years but the fish are getting less and less. And I said what is happening with me, where are the fish, and after I went to Holland I found out.”
Campaigners have been trying to get consumers to be more careful about the seafood they buy.
Dr Allen To works in the Hong Kong offices of the World Wildlife Fund and monitors local imports and consumption of endangered seafood species.
He says the per capita consumption of seafood in Hong Kong is second in Asia and seventh in the world.
“That’s why in Hong Kong we do have the responsibility to try not only to reduce our own ecological footprint but to try to reduce our impact on the ocean of many other countries,” he says, “We believe if we can push sustainable seafood in Hong Kong then eventually we can help at least to reduce our impact on fish resources particularly in the Asia Pacific region.”
Price however is an issue. Another Hong Kong seafood company concentrating on sustainable products is Keith Tsui, managing director of New Bon Marine.
He says education and government awareness campaigns are helping turn consumers onto sustainable seafood. But so far the focus has been on high-value species like black cod, salmon and shellfish.
He wants to get lower income groups switching to sustainable seafood too, as well as the high-income group.
“We are trying to get more products for the budget class,” he explains, “A couple of years ago we did a good job with a fastfood chain in Hong Kong they use sustainable seafood for breakfast for the budget class, 25 dollars fish filet for breakfast, this is a great leap forward for us, it’s no longer limited to the high income group.”
Campaigners want consumers to make sustainable choices but they’re also calling on Hong Kong’s political leaders to clamp down on illegal catches, the so-called illegal and unreported or IIUU fish from boats docking in the city.
Dr Allen To at the WWF says this practise has depleted stocks of rare wild fish from the coral reefs of Southeast Asia, like the grouper.
“In Hong Kong and China these two places are the main trading and consumption areas for live reef fish including grouper and the humpback wrasse,” says To, “Many of the grouper species are already over-exploited and some of them are threatened species.”
Seafood trader Keith Tsui meanwhile wants to bring more sustainably produced seafood products to Hong Kong. He is focusing on an innovative new approach focusing on the retail sector and in schools.
“We will try to liaise more with school lunch boxes and let them tell the kids they are using sustainable food for their lunchboxes,” explains Tsui, “This customer group is the future. After they go into the society they are the ones buy it and they are the biggest influencers on their parents.”
It’s Asia’s capital of seafood but Hong Kong is trying to ensure there will be fish in the sea for future consumers.