Fish farmers are expressing concern over the government’s proposal to tighten the rules related to renewal of licenses, saying the planned new licensing requirements could lead to financial losses or even shuttering of businesses.
At a press conference on Monday, more than 20 fish farmers, accompanied by lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, voiced strong objections to the planned revision of regulations, which they called the death knell for many of them.
Under the proposed new rules for renewal of marine fish culture licenses, which aim to deal with the problem of many mariculture rafts being left idle in recent years, a fish farm must have not less than 70 percent of its area covered by fish cages as well as a density of 10 kilograms of fish for each square meter of the site so as to get its license renewed.
At the presser Monday, fish farmers laid out their case, saying the water quality is poor because Hong Kong is often affected by red tide and typhoons, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The new criteria for license renewal will only force the farmers to fall into the predicament of “losing more money for raising more fish”, they argued.
Comparing the tightening of the rules to raising the age limit for the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme, Chu said he resolutely opposes the rule changes, and called on the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to withdraw its proposal.
What the government really ought to do is improve the water quality and the environment for fish culture, as well as ease the rules so that mariculture rafts can transform into recreational fishing ponds, Chu said.
Steven Ho Chun-yin, a lawmaker who represents the functional constituency for agriculture and fisheries, suggested that authorities extend the consultation period to allow more time to reach a consensus with the fish culture sector.
Ho also urged separate guidelines for recreational fishing business.
A female fish farmer accused the AFCD of not having offered the sector financial aid after last year’s super typhoon Mangkhut, which caused her to suffer great loss. Instead of providing relief, authorities are now trying to force her and other fish farmers to make unreasonable additional investments, she said, claiming that the new requirements will push the farmers to the wall.
A man who runs a recreational fishing business in Sai Kung said around 30 to 40 percent of licensed fish farms are engaged in recreation fishing facilities, and that two or three out of 10 such operators will be put out of business if the licensing rules are revised.
In response to the concerns, the AFCD insisted its tests on water samples collected from the 26 fish culture zones throughout Hong Kong, where there are 931 licensed fish farms with about 1,900 people engaged in the business, have shown that water quality in general is suitable for fish farming.
As such, the survival rate of cultured fish is not necessarily linked to water quality, the AFCD said.
Mickey Lai Kin-ming, assistant director (fisheries) at the AFCD, revealed that the department intends to add four more fish culture zones and issue more licenses for the first time in 20 years.
The move comes in the wake of produce from the sector falling to a record low of 850 metric tons last year.
The new zones will be located at Wong Chuk Kok in Sai Kung, Grass Island, Mirs Bay and the waters off southeast Po Toi Island.
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