香港环保罕见的大动作 / A Rare Feather in Hong Kong’s Environmental Cap

香港环保罕见的大动作

近年来一谈到环保,香港的公众就怨声载道,特别是对空气质量的批评、对政策无力、措施不当、不足以改变现状的斥责是不绝于耳。即使是政府制定的空气质量可接受标准也因为较国际标准相对宽松而广遭诟病。

空气质量不只是面子问题。很多医生都证明呼吸系统的发病率正在快速上升;多家外国商会也报告说,由于空气质量问题,会员单位派遣骨干、特别是有年幼子女的父母前往香港常驻的难度也在不断加大。

所以,香港的空气问题不仅关乎着民众的健康,还影响到城市的竞争力。

公平地说,香港周边包括港口在内的水域已经比15年前要清洁得多,足见只要政策和措施到位,公私合力,还是能取得一定改观的。

但总的来说,香港的环保记录并不光彩夺目,甚至还有些暗淡无光。

因此,今年五月香港宣布从2012年底禁止拖网捕鱼实属罕见的大动作。

拖网捕鱼被认为是破坏性第二大的商业捕鱼形式(电气捕鱼最甚)。捕鱼者用坠网拖过海底,在一网打尽所有生物的同时,还破坏了珊瑚及海底环境。电气捕鱼更是噩梦,沉到海底的捕鱼设备带有高压电流,可以电晕或杀死附近的一切生物。

香港颁布这一禁令的重点在于要在香港全部水域杜绝一切拖网捕鱼,香港政府藉此也成为世界上为数不多的全面实施拖网捕鱼禁令的国家和地区之一。包括澳大利亚、美国、中国内地、加拿大和巴西在内的很多国家虽然都已划定了大范围的禁止拖网捕鱼的区域,但并未实行全面禁令。

联合国和欧盟都力主全面禁止拖网捕鱼,但由于商业捕捞涉及到经济、政治和国家利益等因素,他们的努力遭到了少数拥有既得利益并掌握话语权的国家的阻挠。

一些专家观察员赞扬香港此举是率先垂范,为南亚和其他地区设立了效仿的榜样。

同时,这一禁令的颁布在香港也引发了一些抗议,主要发生在港口而不是街头。抗议者不外乎都是渔民,他们将拖网船集结在港口中,还悬挂上彩旗和标语。

但有意思的是,他们并不反对禁令,很多人还对撤市表示高兴,因为香港水域早已捕捞过度,拖网捕鱼已不再是有利可图的营生。

A Rare Feather in Hong Kong’s Environmental Cap

In recent years, most of the public commentary in Hong Kong about environmental issues has been sharply critical, of declining air quality in particular, and of ineffective policies and measures to reverse this trend. Even government-set standards for acceptable levels of air quality are widely criticized as being far too lax when compared with internationally accepted standards.

The issue is not merely cosmetic. Many doctors confirm a sharp rise in respiratory ailments, and various international chambers of commerce report that their member companies are facing growing challenges moving key executives to Hong Kong, especially if they have young children, due to air quality issues. They simply do not want expose their families to the health risks. Air quality differences are especially dramatic if the comparison set is based on most North American, Australian, or European cities.

Air quality in Hong Kong is therefore not only a pressing public health issue but a competitiveness issue.

To be fair, the waters surrounding Hong Kong, including the harbor, are a lot cleaner than they were 15 years ago, which proves that progress is possible when policies and commitment are in alignment, and cooperation takes place between the public and private sectors.

But on balance, Hong Kong has not exactly been known as a shining star in terms of its environmental record. Quite the contrary.

So the news item in May this year that Hong Kong had banned trawl fishing in its waters, effective at the end of 2012, is quite significant.

Trawling is arguably the second most destructive type of commercial fishing (electro-fishing being the worst). Trawlers drag weighted nets across the sea bottom, not only scooping up every living thing, but also destroying coral and other types of habitat in the process. Electro-fishing is even more nightmarish because the gear lowered down to the sea bottom is super-charged with powerful electrical current, stunning or killing everything in the vicinity.

What’s significant about Hong Kong’s move is that it is a total ban on trawling in all Hong Kong waters, which puts the S.A.R. into the vanguard of a small handful of countries and regions around the globe to implement a total ban. Many countries, including Australia, the U.S., China, Canada and Brazil have implemented large no-trawl zones, but stopped short of a complete ban.

The United Nations and EU have tried to push trawling bans through, but commercial fishing is a lively blend of economics, politics, and national interests; so their efforts have been impeded by a handful of vocal countries with vested interests.

Some expert observers have hailed Hong Kong’s move as a pacesetter which may help establish a benchmark for Southeast Asia and other regions to emulate.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the announcement of the ban resulted in some protests, not in the streets, but in the harbor. The protesters, not surprisingly, were fishermen, who assembled their trawlers in the harbor with bright flags and banners.

Interestingly, however, they were not protesting against the ban. Most are happy to concede that Hong Kong waters are so overfished that trawling is no longer an economically viable existence.

消失的行当:香港抛锚的拖网渔船 / Vanishing species: trawlers at anchor in Hong Kong.

香港仍在作业的拖网渔船有400艘,占全港渔船的80%。近年来他们捕获的鱼平均长度只有4英寸,没错,4英寸!试想一下,如今要捕多少4英寸的鱼才能买得起一升柴油?而且,这些4英寸的鱼还不都是金枪鱼,更多的可能只是一些你用来喂猫的小杂鱼。

所以,港口上的渔民兴师动众,为的是要从政府因实施禁令而向渔民提供的2.2亿美元失业补偿中多分一杯羹。举例说就是政府将按每条船10万到70万美元的价格,从渔民手中收购即将退役的拖网船。

毫无疑问,到一定时候,关于谁到底能拿到多少补偿的拉锯战自然会尘埃落定。而香港新兴的游船业也可能借机吸纳很多前渔民就业。目前,豪华游艇及游船销售商抱怨香港私家泊位的租用等候时间过长,导致销售业绩受损;有经验的船长和船员也供不应求。

值得关注的是,香港海洋生态系统到底要多久才能恢复。其他地区的经验已证明,针对某一物种或某一区域的过度捕捞实施有效的捕捞禁令,假以时日就会带来明显的恢复作用。

比较近的例子就是中国内地每年6、7月份都会在南海禁止商业捕鱼,实施了已经将近10年之久,至少对某些深海鱼的储量已经产生了非常积极的效果。

香港环保需要正面新闻。希望下次关注的重点不仅限于水生动物,也关照一下陆上呼吸的生物吧。

For the 400 trawlers still operating in Hong Kong, which constitute 80% of Hong Kong’s remaining fishing fleet, the average length of fish caught in recent years was just 4 inches. Correct: 4 inches. Just think about how many 4 inch fish it takes to pay for one liter of diesel fuel at today’s prices. And these are not 4-inch tuna fish, but more the variety you might feed your pet cat.

No, the fishermen were out in force in the harbor to lobby for a more generous share of the US$220 million which the Hong Kong government has allocated in compensation for the loss of livelihood resulting from the ban. That means, for example, the government will purchase the soon-to-be decommissioned trawlers from fishermen for somewhere in the range of US$100,000 to $700,000 per vessel.

No doubt, in due course, the horse-trading over who gets what share of the compensation will sort itself out. Hong Kong’s booming pleasure boat sector will probably absorb many of the former fishermen. Currently, sellers of expensive yachts and pleasure boats complain that long waiting lists to rent a berth in any of Hong Kong’s private marinas are dampening the growth of their business; and experienced skippers and boat boys are in very short supply.

One very interesting thing to watch will be how quickly Hong Kong’s marine ecosystem recovers. Experience in other places suggests that effective bans on over-fished species or areas can yield dramatic recoveries over time.

One example close to home is China’s annual ban on commercial fishing in the South China Sea for the months of June and July, which was instituted nearly 10 years ago and has yielded very positive results at least in terms of fish stocks of some pelagic species.

Hong Kong needs to generate some more good news stories on the environmental front. Let’s hope the next round is focused on creatures who breathe in air rather than water.


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