ILLEGAL FISHING – HONG KONG
During the course of our work out on the water in Hong Kong we have observed illegal fishing vessels almost daily. Much of this illegal fishing activity has been around the south west waters of Hong Kong, an area with an abundance of marine life and home to the Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoise that we conduct research on.
We have identifed a variety of different vessels operating illegally using different types of fishing gear. These range from snake nets and gill nets as well as trawling which has been outlawed in Hong Kong waters since 2013.
In 2019 we launched our IUU Patrols with the intention of documenting illegal fishing operations and building a photo database of vessels documented fishing illegally. All of our evidence gathered is shared with both the AFCD (Agricultural Fisheries Conservation Department) and the Hong Kong Marine Police for their follow up. In 2020 we were invited to present our findings at Marine Police Head Quarters. Working together with both these law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing Hong Kong marine laws we have had considerable success. Marine Police in partnership with AFCD have made several arrests and we have seen a big reduction in the illegal fishing activity in our patrol areas.
SNAKE NET FLEET
We have documented several vessels using what is known as snake nets. These concertina nets that form a box or snake net of approx 30feet and are joined together to span several kilometers. The snake nets lie on the seabed catching anything that dwells on the seabed, mostly crabs and eels as well as small fish. These boats lay lines of these nets in parallel covering vast areas of sea floor, decimating the local eco system and removing a key food source for local cetaceans. they set their nets and leave to soak for several days before returning and recovering.
Working together with AFCD and their mainland counterparts we shared our evidence and these vessels have not been seen again in Hong Kong’s SW waters.
GILL NET FLEET
The majority of illegal fishing activity we have observed is from approx 15 small commercial gillnet vessels. We have a record of these vessels operating almost daily in the SW waters of Hong Kong. When approached and documented up close these vessels stop their fishing activity and run for the border to evade HK law enforcement.
We produced a photo ID database with individual numbers for each of these gillnet boats and shared this database with both law enforcement agencies to ease in communications and identification by patrol vessels.
The Marine Police made several arrests of these vessels and they have only been sight rarely in recent patrols. As soon as sighted these vessels make a run for it.
Trawling was banned in Hong Kong waters in Dec 2012 to help the Hong Kong waters recover from decades of overfishing from this destructive fishing method.
Whilst this ban is largely followed some trawlers have been sighted crossing the Hong Kong boundaries at sunset to try their luck in waters that have since bounced back to life. Due to the size of these vessels we observed from a distance and have left the authorities to handle as they see fit.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY
At our core of our ‘Intelligence Based Conservation’ approach we rely on using whatever technology is available on the open market to gather intel.
Probably our greatest tool is our drone which allows us to approach illegal vessels from several kilometers away and document their activity unseen. This footage has been vital when passed to the law enforcement authorities due to its time and GPS stamp.
ENGAGING THE PUBLIC
We often receive calls of “there’s a trawler in the bay” and in most cases these are LEGAL purse seine vessels.
In order to help people know what vessel is what we produced the infographic ‘Eyes On The Water’ for anyone to check. Seeing a trawler in our waters is NOT ILLEGAL, only if it is actively fishing which means its net lines are straight out the back, taught and the vessel is usually moving slowly.