Three men who used trawling gear to fish illegally on August 27 were convicted and sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment suspended for one year at Kwun Tong Magistrates’ Courts on August 29.
The Marine Police found a trawler suspected to be trawling in the waters off Conic Island (Sai Kung Area) at about 7pm on August 27 and intercepted the vessel for an inspection. Two hundred catties of fish and some trawling apparatus were seized on board the vessel.
The AFCD took over the case. Upon investigation, three men on the vessel were charged for contravening the Fisheries Protection Regulations by using prohibited fishing gear. They appeared at Kwun Tong Magistrates’ Courts and were convicted and sentenced today. The fishing gear concerned was also forfeited.
An AFCD spokesman reminded the public that the ban on trawling came into force on December 31, 2012. Under the Fisheries Protection Ordinance, any person who contravenes the ban is liable to a maximum penalty of a fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for six months upon conviction.
Trawling is a non-selective fishing operation which damages the seabed and marine ecosystems. A ban on trawling has brought this harmful depletion to an immediate halt, enabling marine ecosystems to be gradually rehabilitated to a sustainable level and be better conserved in the long run.
The spokesman said, “The AFCD and the Police will continue to carry out joint enforcement operations to crack down on illegal fishing activities.”
A man who illegally used trawling gear for fishing on January 17th 2018 has been convicted and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment suspended for two years and a fine of $4,000 at Kwun Tong Magistrates’ Court on January 18th 2018.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and the Marine Police mounted an anti-illegal fishing operation in the eastern waters of Hong Kong yesterday, and found a mainland shrimp trawler suspected to be trawling at Ninepin Islands. The vessel was inspected and gear used for trawling was seized on board the vessel. Upon investigation by the AFCD, a male master on the vessel was charged for contravening the Fisheries Protection Regulations by using prohibited fishing gear. He was convicted and sentenced.
The ban on trawling came into force on December 31st, 2012. All electricity transmitting devices used for fishing are also prohibited. Under the Fisheries Protection Ordinance, any person who contravenes the ban is liable to a maximum penalty of a fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for six months.
Trawling is a non-selective fishing method which severely damages the seabed, especially trawling with electricity which kills all marine life around the trawl net and causes serious damage to the marine ecosystem.
Photo credit AFCD.
Having briefly worked in the Natural History Museum in London, i had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Richard Fortey who is known for a whole list of popular science books. One of these books, as ibrecently found out has nearly a whole chapter set in Hong Kong and dealing with some of Hong Kong’s lesser known marine animals.
In “Survivors: the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind”, Richard Fortey visits East Sai Kung Country Park with Professor Paul Shin of City University, to explore some mudflats looking for creatures that are rare survivors of past geological ages millions of years ago.
You may be familiar with this animal:
The coelacanth is a lobe-finned fish thought to be the ancestor of all land vertebrates. Having evolved 400 million years ago, it was thought extinct for 66 million years until famously it was discovered living in 1938. That made it the poster boy for living fossils. But few Hongkongers would suspect a living fossil in their city, let alone 4!!!
One of these is Lingula anatina. It consists of two valves forming a clasped shell and a long stalk or pedicle. The pedicle is buried vertically in the sediment to anchor the animal while its valves open to filter tiny edible pieces out of the sea water at the sediment surface.
To an untrained eye this might seem like mussel or clam or other mollusc. But it is in fact a brachiopod, a group of animals that has been around for about 500 million years. To put that into context, the colonisation of land by plants happened 400 million years ago. How a brachiopod differs from a mussel or clam is its internal organs and body structure – but that’s a matter for undergraduate invertebrate textbooks….
Lingula for all its similarity to a mussel, is not a mollusc, but the next living fossil is. The chiton Acanthopleura japonica is very ancient and primitive mollusc.
The animal is similar to a snail but instead of a shell it has 8 armoured plates which it locks together to form a shield. They use a muscular foot to glide around rocks scraping algae off them. If scared or at low tide they suck themselves onto the rock with their foot and at the same time lift their shell to form a vacuum – so prying them off rocks is not recommended as you will only end up breaking and killing them. If they do get pried off rocks they roll up a bit like a wood louse. Acanthopleura is a common sight around Hong Kong’s rocky shores. And chitons very similar to it started appearing about 450 million years ago…for context, dinosaurs appeared about 200 million years later…and in all that time they really haven’t changed much.
The third living fossil is a type of worm. The Peanut-worm to be precise, so named because it can bunch itself into a peanut-shaped blob. Its proper name is sipunculid worms, and they too have been around for almost 500 million years. As with brachiopod sand mussels, the difference between a sipunculid and a ‘regular’ marine worm is in its internal body structure and organs. Hong Kong actually hosts at least two species of sipunculid worm. One of these is Siphonosoma cumanenses, pictured below. It makes burrows on fine sandy shores.
The other is Sipunculus nudus, pictured below, which is – not surprisingly – also eaten in Southern China.
Finally, there are the horseshoe crabs, but that is for Part 2…
I recently discovered the greenbluesea blog by Emilie. She is one of the few people doing underwater photography in HK (mostly) and this is a nice post about the HK pufferfish, which I recommend.
Juvenile Hong Kong Pufferfishes can be curious. Hello there!
I have picked Takifugu alboplumbeus to feature in this first ‘marine life’ post, because although it is a common species which is not only restricted to Hong Kong, it somehow has come to be commonly known as the Hong Kong Pufferfish. And also, well, would you just look at that little face.
The characteristic of pufferfishes is their ability to inflate their body, increasing their size dramatically. The fish triggers this defence mechanism by drawing water into a chamber near the stomach. Pufferfishes have beak-like teeth and small spines covering much of the body, though you wouldn’t think it from looking at these guys. Also, pufferfishes can be highly toxic if eaten; the notorious Japanese delicacy of ‘fugu’ which requires specialist preparation is in fact a pufferfish. Pufferfishes are omnivorous, feeding on worms, crustaceans, molluscs and algae amongst other things.
Those divers can’t spot…
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Hongkongers love their seafood – a quick glance at the local restaurants scene will more than proove that point. Per capita HK has one of the highest seafood consumption rates in the world. For many locals, expats and tourists a trip to Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma for a seafood meal would not be complete without a big steamed grouper (also called garoupa). But aside from concerns about over-fishing and sustainability, eating these fish can be a health risk, too. That is because these large reef fish are more likely than others to give you ‘Ciguatera fish-poisoning‘. Ciguatera (‘see-gwa-terra’) is a food born toxin harbored by large reef fish. Originally the toxin (CTX) comes from a microscopic organism called Gambierdiscus. Gambierdiscus is a dinoflagellate – a single-called organism with a thin shell and two beating hair-like whips called ‘flagella’ that move it through the water.
Gambierdiscus sticks to coral, seaweed and algae in tropical and sub-tropical regions (like HK) and is eaten by smaller fish feeding on the coral and algae. These fish in turn are eaten by predator fish and so the toxin moves up the food chain, finally accumulating in its greatest concentration in the large reef fish.
Tissues like the roe (fish eggs), head, skin and insides are particularly good at concentrating CTX. CTX is odourless and tasteless and very heat-resistant – so conventional cooking will not destroy or inactivate the toxin.
So how bad is CTX poisoning?
Ciguatera causes a combination of gastrointestinal, neurological and cardiovascular symptoms. The gastrointestinal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. That might not be that bad, right? But the cardiovascular symptoms are more serious: a slowing of your pulse to under 60 beats per minute (sinus bradycardia) and low-blood pressure (hypotension) which can be life-threatening but can also be treated. The common neurological symptoms include a sensation of tingling, tickling, pricking, or burning of a person’s skin, numbness of lips, tongue and the four limbs, reversal of hot-cold sensation, muscle pain, muscle weakness, joint pains, itching and fatigue and these symptoms can last for weeks or even months.
CTX in Hong Kong
Because ciguatera is a matter of food safety the HK government requires by law that the reporting of all diagnosed or suspected cases and as a result there are some good statistics on ciguatera in Hong Kong. From 1988 to 2008 there were between 3 and 117 outbreaks annually causing between 19 and 425 people to fall ill. Groupers were responsible for almost 60% of those cases, with snappers causing another 32%. The rest of the cases were caused by moray eels, triggerfish, parrot fish and other reef fish. Past records of ciguatera fish poisoning cases in Hong Kong show that the following fish are more likely to contain ciguatoxins: Moray Eels, Potato Groupers, Speckled Blue Groupers, Tiger Groupers, High Fin Groupers, Hump Head Wrasses, Areolated Coral Groupers, Black Saddled Coral Groupers, Lyretails, Black Fin Red Snappers, Flowery Groupers and Leopard Coral Groupers.
The most recent suspected case was in September 2014 when a 38-year old man became ill. Before that 19 people aged between 23 and 71 became ill after a shared seafood meal on Lamma in June 2013.
Ciguatoxin is very difficult to detect in fish samples so quality control measures are very difficult to implement and suspected cases are often not confirmed because either a sample of the eaten fish is not available anymore or chemical test are not able to detect the ciguatoxin well enough.
How to avoid CTX poisoning
To avoid this nasty CTX poisoning your best bet is to avoid large reef fish especially groupers. Any reef fish over 2 kg in weight is especially risky. And if you do chose to eat such fish stay away from the high-risk body parts of head (sorry, no more sought-after cheek meat), insides, skin and roe (eggs).
The HK government’s guidelines for the prevention of CTX poisoning are:
- Buy coral reef fish from reputable and licensed seafood shops. Do not buy the fish if in doubt.
- Consume less coral reef fish, especially marine fish over three catties (1.5 kg).
- Only eat small amounts of coral reef fish at any one meal and avoid having a “whole fish feast” in which all the dishes come from the same big coral reef fish.
- Avoid eating the head, viscera, skin, and roe of coral reef fish which usually have higher concentration of toxin.
- When eating coral reef fish, avoid alcohol, peanuts or beans as they may aggravate ciguatera poisoning.
- If you are suffering from ciguatoxin poisoning you should refrain from coral reef fish. The intoxication will sensitize patients and they will suffer from ciguatoxin poisoning even if they are exposed to a lower concentration of toxin.
- Seek medical treatment immediately when symptoms of ciguatera fish poisoning appear. The unfinished fish should be brought to FEHD (Food & Environmental Hygiene Department) for testing.
- There is HK Centre for Food Safety Info-Poster on Ciguatera Fish-Poisoning Prevention you can download here.
Interesting side notes
- Ciguatoxins are actually a group of about 20 chemically related toxins. The most potent of these is Pacific-CTX-1 (PCTX-1) which is found in the Pacific Ocean.
- Ciguatera fish-poisoning was described as early as 600 BC by the Chinese and Captain James Cook’s log details effects felt by his crew on a voyage to Tahiti in 1774.
- The clinical description of the syndrome came from Portuguese biologist Don Antonio Parra and were published in Havana in 1787. Parra said, “some [fishes] cannot be eaten because they are `ciguatos’ and some others are suspicioned because they carry with them the poison..I can speak from personal experience, because on 15 March 1786, twenty-two of us ate a Cubera, and we all developed those symptoms to a greater or lesser extent. All were prostrated, but each one was suffering various types of discomfort, although the most common type of difficulty was the extreme exhaustion accompanied by more or less pain. I observed that I had extreme difficulty in breathing, which caused great pain and a feeling of suffocation. My tongue became rough and I developed a sour taste in my mouth.”
- There is commercially available test kit for consumers called Cigua-Check®, however studies have shown it to have a lower than desired reliability and I do not encourage its use over the HK government’s advice cited above.
Fishermen in Daya Bay – home to Hong Kong’s closest nuclear power plant – face an official crackdown on their use of home-made bombs to blast fish out of the water.
So-called ‘blast fishing’ is outlawed in many countries because of the destructive and unpredictable effect it can have on the marine ecosystems that support fish stocks.
But the practise is nonetheless thriving in Daya Bay, less than 100km northeast of Hong Kong. Visitors there can even pay to go out with the fishermen and throw a few bombs in the water themselves.
The pictures below were published by the Daily Mail in an area described by travel guides as ‘an unpolluted, quiet paradise for sea-lovers’ and show fishermen hurling explosives into the water to stun or kill fish.
Their target are yellow croakers (Larimichthys polyactis) that they head out to catch every November. But the explosions also kill other sea life in the area and severely damage the underlying habitat.
Underwater shockwaves from the explosions stun fish and rupture their swim bladders – the tiny gas-filled organs that help fish to control their buoyancy. The rupturing causes an abrupt loss of buoyancy, so while a small number of fish float to the surface, many more sink to the sea floor, where they join any other marine organisms indiscriminately killed by the blasts.
But this irresponsible practise has now apparently become a tourist attraction. An angler who unwittingly signed up to a trip in Dayawan Bay, said:
We saw an advert promising ‘fishing action. We’d been out for about 30 minutes when the men told us they were going to feed the fishes. They were laughing and stuffing the bottles with powder and what looked like stones. They then threw them overboard and just seconds later there was a huge series of explosions.
And then all these dead fish appeared floating on the surface which the fishermen hauled in with nets. I was absolutely disgusted and shocked beyond belief.
A spokesman for the Chinese Fishery Bureau said: ‘These fishermen make most of their money from taking tourists out to watch them at work. We are attempting to crack down on it though.’
Source: MailOnline, 1/12/2014