In the recent seafood articles that we’ve written, we have explored sustainable seafood from different angles. We started with labelling, and demonstrating how the AFFS seafood label can provide assurance to customers that particular standards have been met, and that the products are being sourced from local farms (as well as pointing out where you can buy them). We have also explored sustainability communications through FarmFest – showcasing the best in sustainable seafood to customers. In our last article we highlighted the importance of traceability and transparency in seafood supply chains, and the solutions available through the AFFS’s QR-code labelling system. In this week’s article, we are taking a new angle, by introducing the importance of supporting and promoting the transition toward sustainable and high value-added fishing operations, with specific reference to projects supported by the Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund (SFDF).

The SFDF was established by the Hong Kong Government in 2014, and has been administered by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) with the aim of helping local fisheries communities move towards sustainable or high value-added operations, so that industry trade can enhance the overall competitiveness and cope with new challenges[1]. Supported applications include programmes, projects and research that contribute to the aim mentioned above, with such initiatives bringing benefits to the operations of the local fisheries community. Additionally, a subsidiary funding programme – the Equipment Improvement Project (EIP) was set up under the SFDF in 2017 with a view to providing grants for the acquisition of mechanised fishery equipment and/or materials on behalf of beneficiaries (i.e. individual fishermen and fish farmers). As of January 2021, the SFDF has approved 18 applications under SFDF and a further 10 under the Equipment Improvement Project of SFDF with a total grant amount of HKD $158 million[2].

To illustrate the types of projects supported and their corresponding initiatives and achievements, in this article, we explore two projects supported by the SFDF in more details.

 

1. Establishment and Demonstration of a Recirculation Aquaculture System for Fry Culture on Raft (SFDF-0016)

One of the ongoing projects is the Establishment and Demonstration of Recirculation Aquaculture System for Fry Culture on Raft, which aims to develop a seawater recirculating system on fish rafts used to farm Grouper fry on fish rafts and to promote such culture techniques to local fish farmers. The project, which started in April 2017 is due to run until September 2021 has been granted with funding support up to $3.8 million and involves the State Key Laboratory in Marine Pollution and City University Hong Kong.

Current practice, with seawater flowing through the cage

Aquaculture farms outside in seawater

Groupers, one the most common type of fish consumed in Hong Kong, are normally farmed in traditional cages constructed on fish rafts. The seawater naturally flows through cages, however, this existing practice often makes it difficult to control the breeding conditions, resulting in an unhealthy habitat, decreasing the survival rate of fish fry and ultimately affecting the livelihood of fish farmers.

To address this, the fund has supported the manufacture of a breeding tank used to separate the grouper fry breeding from the seawater farms outside, which provided a stable and controlled living environment for the fish fry. New breeding techanology has also been developed which includes UV sterilisers and protein skimmers which improve the water quality.

The result of this project is that it improves the conditions for fish fry to be farmed in and also adds value to the livelihoods of fish farmers as they are being empowered with new skills and able to use new technologies. In collaboration with the State Key Laboratory of Marine Pollution, City University of Hong Kong and Mr. Leung Koon-wah, a local experienced fish farmer in Lo Tik Wan fish culture zone, this project will soon publish a standard manual for model operation in order to make this technique more widely accessible to other fish culture zones in Hong Kong and beyond.

New breeding tanks for fish fry

New practice, grouper fry is being cultured in clean tank separated from the marine environment

Real time water quality monitoring set in the fish tanks

 

2. Hong Kong Pearl Farm Centre (SFDF-0022)

Pearl farming was once a flourishing industry in Hong Kong that met a rapid decline due to overfishing. This fishing practice then evolved to family plots which are harvested continually throughout the year, however, the age-old fisheries are threatened by growing pollution at Deep Bay[3].

The Hong Kong Pearl Farm Centre is an exciting SFDF project that started in November 2018, expected to run until January 2026, delivered by the Hong Kong Pearl Cultivation Association Limited, and has been granted funding support up to HKD $5.3 million to deliver the project[4].

The project aims to establish responsible fishing practices by not only farming and harvesting the pearls in a sustainable way but also their by-products. It is expected to harvest 120,000 pearls in the first two years of operation, with a breeding success rate of over 70%.

Simultaneously, the programme ensures alternative and sustainable livelihoods for farmers by demonstrating pearl cultivation in local fish raft and pearl selling, all whilst raising awareness of long-standing pearl farming traditions and history in Hong Kong

Thanks to the funding from the programme, workshops are available to create jewellery such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets with the cultured pearls from the farm[5].

The newest product from the Centre is their signature XO sauce. Traditionally it was produced with dried shrimp and other seafood but now instead of using these products, they use the farmed pearl oyster meat. They make this product with the local shop that has been running for 70 years[6].

Mr. Wong Chun-kit, General Manager of the Hong Kong Pearl Farm Centre, spoke about the project said “Don’t underestimate the fund, the fund is very important, very powerful”. Having been in the business for many years, he recognised that without the fund it would have taken a much longer time to implement this project.

Thanks to the fund the farmers are able to improve their farms and create a compliant, safe farm. Mr. Wong also noted that when they started running the Centre, enquiries were coming in slowly, but the business has seen continued growth, even throughout 2020[7].

What’s best is that a key sustainability benefit to farming oysters is that every part can be sold. The mother-of-pearl that lines the shells sells for more than HKD $100 per gram, and can be used by watch manufacturers, used in Chinese medicines or beauty products. Oyster meat is popular in barbecues and can be dried for soup stock, and finally the calcium-rich outer shells can be used to enrich pig and chicken feed.

Hong Kong Pearl Farm Centre proves a shining example of how enabling new and alternative sources of income to fish farmers through innovation, preserves the livelihoods of the producers and their communities whilst maintaining sustainable fishing practices. The Centre plans to organise free workshops for other farmers to learn about the pearl cultivation business.

At Food Made Good, we recognise the importance of projects like these benefitting a wide variety of stakeholders, and applaud the innovative nature of the fund as it helps to educate producers, ensuring that these practices can be replicated at international scale for a more sustainable food system.

Hanging pocket nets for pearl oyster cultured in seawater

The fish raft of Hong Kong Pearl Cultivation Association is located at Ma Nam Wat fish culture zone in Hong Kong

Participants create different jewellery using pearls found during the workshops

Pearl found from a live pearl oyster