By Tara Alderson, Researcher & Resident Writer, FMG HK
The need for more local and sustainable food sources has never been more apparent due to pressing issues such as climate change, overexploited fish stocks, water and air pollution, and now, a global disruption in supply chains due to COVID-19. Honestly, we could go on and on, but we do not want to dwell on the issues here. We want to talk about solutions.
This month’s sustainability breakfast series topic was Value Natural Resources and we enjoyed a wonderful talk by Dr. Eric Wikramanayake from WWF. Eric highlighted the importance of Hong Kong’s wetlands in terms of enhanced biological diversity and food production and we became intrigued to find out more about Hong Kong’s fish pond culture.
As it turns out, local fish ponds dotted all over the Northwest New Territories contribute to a greater ecological system by functioning as wetlands. They support migratory birds, amphibians, avifauna and dragonflies, and of course, freshwater fish for human consumption. Fish ponds weren’t always part of Hong Kong’s local food scene, however, with less than 100ha in the 1930’s. They only started to gain in popularity in the 1960’s when the population rapidly increased and pressure was put on marine resources. Concern about pollution in the Deep Bay area and mangrove destruction in the Pearl River estuary impacted profits of traditional Gei Wai (i.e. coastal shrimp farming) and farmers quickly switched from shrimp to freshwater fish production. Fish pond culture reached its peak in 1982 at 7000 tonnes.
Photo Source: Timeout HK
As of 2018, this small yet thriving industry still produced 2536 tonnes of freshwater fish valuing $59 million Hong Kong dollars! In comparison, this is three times more fish than Hong Kong’s mariculture industry (i.e. those floating fish farms dotted along HK’s coastlines). As for the type of fish produced, the majority of inland ponds (96%) engage in a polyculture of carps (e.g grass, common and silver) along with a combination of tilapia, jade perch or grey mullet. The other 4% consist of monocultures of carnivorous species such as giant groupers, seabreams and spotted scat in brackish ponds near the coastline. Fry and fingerlings are mainly imported from Mainland China and Taiwan although the government has made recent efforts in local fish hatcheries in Ta Kwu Ling since 2008.
To safeguard this precious pond culture resource, it’s important that fish ponds are protected from developmental encroachment, abandonment due to overseas competition and water quality issues. Luckily, there are organisations that work to protect not only Hong Kong’s fisheries, but in tandem, the surrounding areas in order for the fisheries to thrive. These include WWF-HK, who fights for the land and biodiversity through their conservation programme; Hong Kong’s Fish Marketing Organization (FMO), a non-profit cooperative of farmed fish farmers; and the Fisheries branch of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), who implements schemes for healthy market development. As for consumers and restaurateurs, we can also help safeguard this industry and support the livelihoods of our local fish farmers by purchasing more local fresh fish.
Photo Source: Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department
We think a big concern amongst us is the quality of fish due to water quality in those fish ponds, and to understand this, we need to look at three main fish pond characteristics. First, fish ponds are self-containing water bodies with clay bottoms and strong pond bunds for walls. The water basically stays in the pond until the farmer drains it. Second, farmers mainly rely on rain, streams, wells, draining one pond to another or seawater (for the few brackish ponds), so the quality of water from those sources directly impacts water quality. Third, the management practices implemented by an individual farmer greatly influences the quality of the pond. Feed management, food additives and drugs, overstocking, and the age of the fish pond all contribute to overall water quality. Considering these numerous factors, it is very likely that there are both good fish farms and bad, but how do we identify which farmers are doing it right and producing the highest quality fish?
AFCD’s Accredited Fish Farm Scheme
To provide quality and safe aquaculture products to the public, the Fisheries branch of AFCD implemented the Accredited Fish Farm Scheme (AFFS) back in 2005. Registered fish farms must adopt good aquaculture practices published by AFCD and comply with quality assurance tests, including no drug residues, no malachite green and no heavy metals exceedance. Registered farms are regularly monitored and inspected by AFCD.
Both chefs and consumers alike can keep a look out for the AFFS logo and can also scan the QR code to find out product details, such as farm location and quality assurance results. This type of transparency and traceability in the system should give everyone the confidence to go try an AFFS fish. As of 2018, 47 freshwater fish farms fell under the scheme. You can find a full list of retail and wholesale locations here.
There are also a few organic aquaculture farms producing fresh water fish that are worth looking into. Currently the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre (HKORC) has certified seven farms with the largest being Wah Yuen Farm with 18,605m2. There are also three more farms currently in conversion. You can find their details here.
Photo Source: Visioforce
The FMG HK Verdict?
Go out and look for that AFFS logo and try some for yourself! Buying these fish products not only supports Hong Kong’s local fisherman/women but also helps safeguard the industry, enhances local biodiversity and reduces your carbon footprint, while also offering full transparency and traceability. Sounds pretty good right?
If you have bought AFFS accredited fish please share your story with us to help promote this great programme.