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LCQ6: Marine refuse
     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):


     After the end of the fishing moratorium in the South China Sea on August 1 this year, some of the Hong Kong and Macao floating fishermen netted large quantity of refuse when they carried out trawling activities in the Pearl River Estuary region. Subsequently, quite a number of fishermen engaged in fishing operations and the aquaculture industry in Hong Kong waters noticed that there was a lot of refuse scattered over the sea. It is learnt that some lawbreakers used large ships to dump hundreds of tonnes of refuse illegally into the Pearl River Estuary waters, and some refuse drifted to Hong Kong waters. Such refuse has not only damaged marine ecology, but also seriously affected the livelihood of fishermen, causing great nuisances to them. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the details of the aforesaid illegal marine dumping activities; whether the authorities will step up cooperation with the relevant Mainland authorities and conduct joint law enforcement operations to curb that kind of activities; if they will, of the details;

(2) whether the authorities will make reference to the strategies adopted in other places (such as Taiwan) for handling marine refuse, including
(i) setting up refuse recycling facilities or fisheries refuse collection points at specific locations for fishermen to discard the refuse generated or netted during their fishing operations;
(ii) deploying resources and collaborating with the relevant Mainland authorities to send additional vessels to clear the refuse on the sea; and
(iii) providing subsidies and assistance to fishermen who have been affected by illegal marine dumping activities; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) given that some fishermen have relayed that in the past, the relevant government departments always passed the buck among themselves when dealing with incidents of marine pollution and massive quantity of dead fish, whether the authorities will formulate concrete and long-term policies for handling such incidents so as to strengthen interdepartmental collaboration within the Government, and to stipulate the remedial measures required to be taken, including enhancing the protection for the agriculture and fisheries industry by establishing an insurance fund and subsidy system for the industry which has encountered difficulty in getting insured, so that fishermen and the related industry may expeditiously resume operations and their losses may be reduced; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


     Having consulted the Food and Health Bureau, I hereby give a consolidated reply to the question raised by the Hon Steven Ho as follows.

     On August 15 this year, the Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium (HKFC) relayed to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) that Hong Kong mobile fishermen operating in the waters of Wanshan Qundao had spotted large cargo ships suspected to have dumped industrial refuse (mainly plastic films and textiles) into the sea. At the same time, quite a number of Hong Kong fishermen had netted a large quantity of refuse while trawling in that part of Mainland waters and their catches and livelihood were affected.

     The AFCD, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Marine Department (MD) subsequently met with the HKFC representatives for more details and followed it up. Since the location reported by the fishermen is outside Hong Kong waters, the AFCD, the EPD and the MD promptly relayed the case and the fishermen's concern to the fisheries and marine authorities as well as the Department of Environmental Protection of Guangdong Province (GDEPD). According to the GDEPD, the Mainland law enforcement agencies had already commenced operations both at sea and on land to proactively track down the illegal dumping activities. Patrol was also stepped up to vigorously combat such activities. Later on, the GDEPD advised that the operations had delivered results, with vessels and personnel suspected of illegal activities detained and illegal marine dumping curbed. In addition, the MD has also stepped up patrol in Hong Kong waters, in particular the offshore waters near Hong Kong's boundary, to check on the situation concerning floating refuse. So far, no large quantity of floating refuse has been found.

     As marine refuse within the region could affect the marine environment, Hong Kong and Guangdong agreed in September 2016 to set up the Hong Kong-Guangdong Marine Environmental Management Special Panel, under the framework of the Hong Kong-Guangdong Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection, to enhance exchange and communication on various regional marine environmental matters. These would include, among other things, setting up a notification and alert system on marine refuse issues and combating illegal marine dumping activities. The Special Panel has been set up in October and preparation has started on the exchange of data and information regarding marine refuse so as to enhance monitoring.

     The Environment Bureau and the EPD will not only continue to improve the marine environment through planning and pollution control at source, but also co-ordinate the efforts of relevant government departments in cleaning up refuse at shorelines and sea under the Interdepartmental Working Group on Clean Shorelines. The MD is responsible for cleaning up floating refuse in Hong Kong waters. With a fleet of about 70 vessels of different types, MD's contractor cleans up floating refuse and collects domestic refuse from vessels moored at anchorages and inside typhoon shelters on a daily basis. In response to the recent report on large quantity of refuse being netted by fishermen, the MD has made a special arrangement. If the refuse netted by fishermen during their operation is too bulky for collection by the contractor's fleet, the fishermen concerned may call the MD to arrange for special collection by large-scale refuse collection vessels. The MD will also enhance the promotion of this service to fishermen.

     To the AFCD's understanding, some local fishing vessel owners have insured their vessels in the Mainland through the China Fishery Mutual Insurance to safeguard their fishing vessels. As the scale of operation of the mariculture industry is relatively small, there is a lack of commercially viable insurance scheme in the market. However, fish farmers and fishing vessel owners affected by natural disasters (including incidents causing massive death of cultured fish) may apply to the AFCD for the Emergency Relief Fund, with a view to resuming the operation of their fish farms or repairing/replacing their fishing vessels and gear. The Government will review the existing mechanism for payment of grants to better meet the needs of members of the fisheries industry affected by natural disasters. In addition, fishing vessel owners whose net gear is damaged by marine refuse may also apply for low-interest loans under the Fish Marketing Organisation Loan Fund set up by the Fish Marketing Organisation, for replacing their net gear and resuming their business.
Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:59
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