LCQ6: Fisheries impact assessment and conservation of marine resources

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yung-kan and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (April 18):


     In accordance with the existing requirements for environmental impact assessment (EIA) in Hong Kong, fisheries impact assessments must be conducted for proposed development projects which may affect fisheries resources.  Regarding such assessments and conservation of marine resources, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether certain ancillary tools (e.g. mathematical models) are at present required to be used for conducting impact prediction and evaluation; if so, of the difference between such tools and those ancillary tools currently used by various leading fisheries countries; if not, how the relevant organisations can make accurate judgment when examining and approving EIA reports;

(b) given that at present the Government mainly makes reference to the opinion of experts to make scientific assessments when conducting EIA, and evaluate the ecological impact of infrastructure projects in a systematic manner, of the objective means adopted by the Government to make assessment in respect of the impact of marine works on fishermen and members of the community; whether the Government will consider the views of fishermen and relevant members of the community, and regard their views as one of the important factors for consideration; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) whether the Government has any plan to conduct a comprehensive survey on marine resources in Hong Kong waters and prepare marine resource maps, with a view to promoting conservation of the ecosystem and marine resources; if not, of the reasons for that?



     My replies to the questions raised by Hon Wong Yung-kan are as follows:

(a) The purpose of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO) is to avoid, minimise and control the adverse impact on the environment of designated projects through the application of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the environmental permit system.  As such, fisheries impact assessment (FIA) will be conducted as part of an EIA study for a proposed development project that may affect fishing and aquaculture activities, fisheries resources and habitats, as well as aquaculture sites.  On matters related to FIA, the Technical Memorandum on EIA Process (TM) stipulates that the Director of Environmental Protection shall take the advice from the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation.

     The TM under the EIAO sets out the guidelines for fisheries impact assessment.  The FIA shall predict the potential fisheries impacts of the proposed development project based on the project profile and fisheries baseline information gathered.  The nature and extent of the impacts on aquaculture and capture fisheries shall also be described and quantified.  The significance of the predicted impacts of the proposed development project on aquaculture and capture fisheries shall be evaluated in accordance with the criteria for evaluating fisheries impact set out in the TM.  These criteria include the nature of impact, the size of affected area, the loss of fisheries resources and production, the destruction and disturbance of nursery and spawning grounds as well as the impact on fishing and aquaculture activity.  The relevant experts and departments shall make use of scientific methods and objective information to conduct the study and analysis, with a view to determining whether the FIA meets the above-mentioned requirements.  The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) notes that the use of ancillary tools or mathematical models for assessing the fisheries impact of development projects is not an international common practice.  Moreover, the ancillary tools and mathematical models used for fisheries assessment in other countries may not be applicable to Hong Kong, which has different fishing practices and fisheries resources.

(b) The TM under the EIAO stipulates that the criteria for evaluating fisheries impact shall include the impact of the proposed development project on fishing and aquaculture activity, and the extent of impact on fishermen and fish farmers is one of the considerations.  Also, the guidelines for FIA set out in the TM stipulate that consultation of the local fishermen and fish farmers could help project proponents to obtain useful baseline information for conducting fisheries impact study.  Moreover, the AFCD urges the project proponent to comprehensively consult the relevant fishermen and fish farmers at the early stage of the EIA study, with a view to understanding their concerns.

     The EIA process is open and transparent.  Members of the public (including affected fishermen and relevant members of the community) and the Advisory Council on the Environment may participate in the process and express their views on the project profile at the early stage of the statutory EIA process or prior to the approval of the EIA report.  As for the FIA and related issues, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the AFCD will jointly consider the relevant views before finalising the contents of the EIA study brief and deciding whether to approve the EIA report.

(c) In respect of fisheries resources, the AFCD conducted a comprehensive survey on fisheries resources and fishing operations in Hong Kong waters in 1998.  Since then, the relevant data are regularly updated by various means, such as the port survey conducted in 2006 and the survey being conducted on demersal fisheries resources in Hong Kong waters.

     The survey work of the Government on marine resources is extensive, including regular surveys conducted by the AFCD as well as studies conducted in collaboration with other organisations.  Since 2001, the AFCD has kept monitoring the status of Chinese white dolphins.  The findings indicate that Hong Kong waters are part of the regular habitats of Chinese white dolphins.  Since 2000, the AFCD has collaborated with the Reef Check Foundation in co-ordinating the annual survey of Hong Kong's corals to monitor the situation of coral communities in Hong Kong waters.  Recent findings indicate stable growth of corals at all the 33 survey sites.  Most of the survey sites within marine parks record a high coral coverage (over 50%) and more diversified marine life.

     The AFCD formed a diving team for underwater ecological survey in 2011 by recruiting internal staff who were experienced in scuba diving and ecological survey.  The diving team is currently undertaking projects such as the long-term monitoring programmes for coral, reef fish and artificial reefs, and thematic studies on the health of corals and the algae diversity.

     Moreover, with a grant from the Environment and Conservation Fund, the Swire Institute of Marine Science of the University of Hong Kong will launch a review of marine biodiversity and ecological surveys in Hong Kong in 2012.  The objective is to conduct a study on the diversity of the local marine life and health of the ecosystems. This provides reference materials for continuous monitoring and establishes the scope and topics for a comprehensive study where necessary.

Ends/Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:10