Legislative Council Panel on Economic Services
DEVELOPMENT OF THE MARICULTURE INDUSTRY AND
THE OVERALL MANPOWER REQUIREMENTS
OF THE FISHERIES INDUSTRY
This paper informs Members of Government's policy on the development of the mariculture industry and the current review of the manpower requirements of the fisheries industry.
II. THE MARICULTURE INDUSTRY
2. Marine fish culture is protected and regulated by the Marine Fish Culture Ordinance (Cap. 353) which requires all marine fish culture activities to operate under licence in designated fish culture zones. Currently, there are 26 designated fish culture zones occupying a total sea area of 209 hectares with some 1,500 licensed operators. The majority of the licensed fish farms are small, family-based operations with an average sea area of around 250 square metres.
3. The marine fish culture industry makes a considerable contribution in maintaining a steady supply of fresh marine fish to local consumers. The annual production of these farms is 2,960 tonnes of fish valued at $178 million in 1997 and accounts for some 10% of the live marine fish consumed in Hong Kong.
4. The Government's policy is to promote the development of the marine fish culture industry, together with other fisheries sectors, with a view to maintaining a steady supply of fresh fish to local consumers.
5. To this end, the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD) provides technical support to the industry to improve its productivity, makes available loans to mariculturists, participates in international forums to enhance international co-operation in marine fish culture development and research, and enforces legislation to protect and regulate marine fish culture. Recently, it also enhances its efforts to monitor red tides and minimise impacts of such incidents on marine fish culture.
Efforts to minimise impacts of red tides on marine fish culture
6. Since 1983, a red tide reporting network has been in place to monitor red tide occurrence in Hong Kong waters. The network enables prompt reporting of red tide occurrence to AFD for follow-up actions, so that timely warnings can be given to nearby mariculturists.
7. In March and April this year, there were red tide outbreaks of an unprecedented scale which killed most of the fish in the fish culture zones. To improve early warning to fish farmers about red tide outbreaks (or phytoplankton blooms), AFD has stepped up its phytoplankton monitoring programme since May 1998. Water samples are taken at 13 fish culture zones twice a week and at three outer-coastal locations once a week for monitoring phytoplankton in water. Moreover, AFD has also strengthened its communication network with fish farmers, so that warnings or emergency support services can be provided to them promptly even outside office hours. Furthermore, AFD is working with the Federation of Aquaculture Associations to set up "support groups" in fish culture zones to facilitate dissemination of red tide warnings, to assist in monitoring the situation in fish culture zones and to co-ordinate raft relocation and other remedial actions as appropriate.
8. In parallel, an Experts Group on Red Tide (comprising experts from both tertiary institutes and relevant Government departments) has also been established to advise the Government on how to tackle red tide outbreaks more effectively. The improved phytoplankton monitoring programme mentioned in paragraph 7 above has been implemented following the advice and with the support of the Group. The Group has also discussed other issues, including the effectiveness of using satellite remote sensing for red tide monitoring and chemicals for control of red tides.
9. With a view to further improving early warning of red tide outbreaks in Hong Kong waters and minimising their impacts on mariculture, AFD has recently commissioned a consultancy study on red tide monitoring and management. The consultancy study is planned to be completed in early 1999, after which time we would have a re-look at the red tide monitoring and management programme for Hong Kong.
10. To reduce the risk of red tides, there are also suggestions that actions should be taken to remove bottom sediment underneath fish culture zones in order to improve the local marine environment. In this connection, AFD will implement a pilot project to clean up such bottom sediment by dredging by early 1999. Subject to the outcome of this pilot project and the availability of funds, we would consider extending such dredging works to other fish culture zones.
Technical support services
11. Government provides technical support services to help fish farmers improve productivity and reduce fish losses due to diseases. AFD conducts adaptive research studies at three fisheries stations to help sustain the local mariculture industry and increase the market competitiveness of the local produce. First, the Kat O station, equipped with experimental cage culture facilities, is mainly involved in technological studies, such as culture trials of new fish species and improvements to feed formulation and culture techniques. Second, the Au Tau station is dedicated to fish disease investigations and studies. Third, the Aberdeen Station is directed towards water quality analysis including red tide monitoring.
12. To provide a choice of fish species for culture and to increase competitiveness of the industry, AFD identifies and introduce suitable new species with good market potential to fish farmers. For example, recent trials of culturing Red Drum and Rabbit Fish have shown encouraging results and we are now promoting the culture of these species locally. Trials on other potential fish species, such as Scat and Emperor Snapper, are in progress.
13. Since 1994, AFD has successfully developed suitable moist pellet feed (comprising trash fish, fish meal, vitamin mixture and binder) and introduced such feed to fish farmers. This moist pellet feed significantly reduces wastage and environmental pollution as well as achieving better feed efficiency and fish growth than the traditional feed of trash fish only. AFD continues to improve and develop more pellet feed formulations for different growth stages and different fish species. So far, some 430 fish farms have adopted such environmental friendly feed for feeding cultured fish. It is our target to increase the number of fish farms using such feed to 500 by the year 2000.
14. Fish disease is a common problem encountered by fish farmers. AFD provides fish farmers with disease diagnostic facilities. The Au Tau Station conducts investigations on causes of disease outbreaks and advises farmers of appropriate treatment and preventive measures. In addition, the Station also conducts trials on the effectiveness of vaccines available in the market in controlling bacterial diseases which affect local culture fish species.
15. In addition to research activities carried out by AFD, the Government also provides funding support to tertiary institutes to carry out research on various mariculture issues through the Industrial Support Fund and the Environmental and Conservation Fund.
Loans to mariculturists
16. DAF also provides low interest loans under the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Loan Fund to help fish farmers to improve their production. In the past five years from 1993 to 1997, 88 loans involving $4.87 million were granted to marine fish farmers for purchase of fish fry, fish feed and fish farm equipment as well as building and maintenance of fish farms.
International co-operation in marine fish culture development and research
17. We keep abreast of new and international developments and research in mariculture through participation in relevant international and regional forums such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Fisheries Working Group under the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA). In particular, we participate actively in NACA which is a regional organisation to assist member Governments (14 members including China, Hong Kong, China and other Asia-Pacific Governments) in aquaculture development. Recent topical issues discussed in NACA include grouper culture, fish health management and fish product safety. In view of the similarities of fish species and management techniques in mariculture between Hong Kong and South China, we maintain liaison with the Mainland agencies and are exploring opportunities for co-operation in aquaculture development and research with them.
18. In response to changes in the industry in the past years, AFD has recently conducted a review of the provisions in the Marine Fish Culture Ordinance. We are considering amending certain provisions, including Section 8 which prohibits transfer of fish culture licences. The marine fish culture trade will soon be consulted on the proposed amendments.
III. MANPOWER REQUIREMENTS OF THE FISHERIES INDUSTRY
Mainland Fishermen Deckhand Scheme
19. Recruitment of local workers to the fishing industry has been difficult, as the extended absences from Hong Kong and arduous working conditions make fishing a relatively unattractive employment. Fishing vessel owners have tackled this problem since the 1980s by visiting ports in the Mainland to recruit deckhands. However, these deckhands were not allowed to enter Hong Kong waters as they did not possess valid travel documents for entry purpose. Consequently, the fishing vessels had to drop all the deckhands on Mainland soil before entering. This left the fleet short of manpower to land catches in Hong Kong. In 1995, the Mainland Fishermen Deckhand Scheme (MFDS) was implemented as a means of assisting the distant water fishing fleet (defined as fishing vessels of not less than 25 metres in length or with an engine power of not less than 400 horsepower) to land catches in Hong Kong. Under MFDS, a maximum of 3,500 Mainland fishermen deckhands were allowed to enter Hong Kong specifically for the purpose of helping to unload catches at designated wholesale fish markets. The scheme was expanded in 1997 to cover fishing vessels of not less than 20 metres in length or with an engine power of not less than 200 horsepower habitually engaged in fishing outside Hong Kong waters for periods of three days or more at a time, instead of only to vessels "engaged in distant water fishing". The maximum number of Mainland deckhands permitted to enter Hong Kong has been increased from 3,500 to 5,500.
20. MFDS is not a labour importation scheme. The employment contract of Mainland deckhands is entered into outside Hong Kong and their work is performed mainly outside Hong Kong.
21. At the meeting of the then Provisional Legislative Council's Panel on Economic Services on 5 January 1998, we informed Members of the expansion of MFDS mentioned in paragraph 19 above. Members asked the Administration to pragmatically re-assess the actual needs and manpower requirements of the whole fisheries industry.
22. In response, AFD has consulted fishermen's associations to solicit data and opinions on the manpower requirements of the fisheries industry. Preliminary findings are set out below.
23. As at 30 September 1998, some 4,880 of the 5,500 quota under MFDS have been allocated to successful applicants. Currently, 43 applications for 150 quota are under processing by AFD.
24. With regard to smaller fishing vessels which are presently not eligible under the existing MFDS, there are some 2,800 P4 sampans, non-mechanised vessels and mechanised vessels of less than 10 metres in length. Owners of these vessels do not seem to be facing any labour shortage problem in view of their small scale of operation and that their manpower requirement can be satisfied by family labour with little outside help.
25. There are, however, about 530 mechanised vessels between 10 metres and 20 metres in length which are currently not eligible under MFDS. The majority of these vessels are dually licensed by Hong Kong and the Mainland authorities. With the decline in fish stock level in local waters, these vessels have increasingly shifted their operation offshore and outside Hong Kong waters. In addition, there are about 260 mechanised vessels engaged in the transportation of live and fresh marine fish. Except for the smaller boats of less than 10 metres in length, which operate mainly within Hong Kong waters, most of these larger vessels are dually licensed and are engaged in collecting and transporting fish from the Mainland back to Hong Kong for sale. The frequent absences from Hong Kong and arduous working conditions have rendered local recruitment of workers difficult for both these two groups of vessel owners.
26. The aquaculture sector comprises mariculture, pond fish farming and, to a much less extent, oyster culture. The oyster culture sector has been on the decline in recent decades and is apparently not having any labour shortage problem. The mariculture and pond fish farming sectors, comprise some 1,500 licensed mariculture farms and 400 pond fish farms. They used to be operated mainly by the owners and their family members. As the better educated younger members of the families prefer to seek more attractive employment elsewhere, the fish farms are increasingly suffering from labour shortage problem. The arduous working conditions in the fish farms and their remote locations have made local recruitment difficult.
27. Since mariculturists culture fish in fixed locations in local waters, the workers employed by them would work entirely in Hong Kong. At present, local fish farmers can apply for imported workers under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) in accordance with its terms and conditions. Some fish farmers have, however, expressed difficulties in complying with the terms and conditions of SLS.
28. In the light of the above findings, in consultation with the relevant policy bureaux and departments (including Education and Manpower Bureau, Security Bureau, Labour Department, Immigration Department), Economic Services Bureau and AFD are reviewing the ambit of MFDS and exploring other ways and means to address the manpower shortage problem in the fisheries industry. We expect to complete the review in early 1999 and will report the outcome to this Panel.
Economic Services Bureau
21 October 1998