LCQ12: Assistance for persons affected by trawling ban
The legislation banning trawling activities in Hong Kong waters (the trawling ban) came into operation on December 31, 2012. In this connection, the Government has introduced a one-off assistance scheme for the affected fishermen, including granting them ex-gratia payments. Between the commencement of the scheme and October 2015, there were 858 appeals lodged by owners of trawler vessels against the amount of ex-gratia payments granted to them. As at August 2016, the Fishermen Claims Appeal Board (FCAB) made decisions on and completed hearings for only 40 and 47 cases respectively, and there is no timetable for completion of the processing of all other cases. Besides, some fishermen have pointed out that there are quite a number of fisheries-related industries that have also been affected by the trawling ban, such as ice-making industry, fresh water supply vessels, fishing gears industry and wholesale fish markets. All such industries have not received any compensation from the Government. The Aquatic Products and Crustacean Merchants' Association, which has been providing sales and loans platforms for the fisheries industry for some 70 years, has indicated that the aggregate value of sales of seafood, as affected by the trawling ban, has dropped by more than 10 per cent in the past two years as compared with those of several years ago. Nevertheless, the Government has not provided any assistance to the affected persons concerned. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the employment or operating conditions in the past three years of the fishermen who have been affected by the trawling ban, including the respective numbers of those who have switched to work in (i) other capture fishery industries, (ii) marine fish culture industry, (iii) fisheries industries other than (i) and (ii), and (iv) fisheries-related industries;
(2) when FCAB is expected to complete the processing of all of the aforesaid appeal cases; the measures in place to improve FCAB's arrangement for and progress in processing the appeals, so as to avoid fishermen waiting for an indefinite period of time; of a breakdown, by type of fishing vessels, of (i) the decisions made and (ii) the number, of such cases; whether it will consider improving the existing way of displaying information on FCAB's website, including setting out the relevant information according to the aforesaid categorisation;
(3) of the justifications for the Government to claim, at the time when the assistance scheme for the trawling ban was introduced, that the ban would not have significant impacts on other fisheries-related industries; whether it has assessed (i) the impacts of the trawling ban on fishermen and fisheries-related industries so far, and (ii) the operating conditions in recent years of the affected persons who engaged in fisheries-related industries; if it has, of the details; if not, when it will conduct such an assessment; and
(4) whether the Government has plans to provide assistance to those fisheries-related industries that, albeit confirmed to have been affected by the trawling ban, have not received any compensation, so as to reduce the losses suffered by them; if it does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
In order to restore the seabed and depleted marine resources, the Government has been implementing a series of fisheries management measures in the past few years, including the implementation of the trawl ban in Hong Kong waters since December 31, 2012. To assist fishermen affected by the trawl ban, the Government has introduced a one-off assistance package which includes making ex-gratia allowance (EGA) payment to affected trawler owners, buying out inshore trawlers from affected owners who voluntarily surrender their vessels, and providing one-off assistance to local deckhands and inshore fish collector owners. A total of $953 million has been disbursed. Moreover, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has introduced a special training programme and loan arrangements to assist affected fishermen in switching to other sustainable modes of fishing operation. The Government also established a $500 million Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund in 2014 to provide the industry with financial assistance in developing sustainable modes of operation.
My reply to the various parts of the questions is as follows:
(1) The owners of the 269 inshore trawlers operating in Hong Kong waters were most affected by the trawl ban. According to AFCD's records of various schemes and its survey on the trade, about half of the inshore trawler owners have switched to operate in the Mainland waters after receiving EGA, while some 40 inshore trawler owners have switched to other forms of capture fishery or fish culture industry. The remaining trawler owners after receiving EGA have either withdrawn from the industry or yet to decide whether to stay in the fishing industry.
In addition, there are around 700 larger trawlers (the owners also received EGA) not normally operate in Hong Kong waters. The trawl ban does not have a significant impact on their mode of operation.
(2) The Fishermen Claims Appeal Board (Trawl Ban) (FCAB) received a total of 858 appeal applications, of which 82 cases were subsequently withdrawn by the appellants.
As at mid-November this year, a total of 127 hearings have been held by FCAB. FCAB has issued decisions on 51 appeal cases, of which 3 were allowed. The hearings for another 60 cases have been completed, pending drafting of judgements by legal advisers. FCAB has been stepping up its efforts to process the remaining 665 cases, including through increasing the number of its members and frequency of hearings since last year.
To ensure that all appeal cases are handled in a fair and just manner, FCAB would carefully examine and consider the information of each case, including statements submitted and arguments put forth by both parties. Hearing is held for each case. The workload involved in processing the appeals is exceptionally heavy, and it may require more than one hearing in order to conclude a complicated case. Besides, processing of certain cases is prolonged as the fishermen concerned need to carry out fishing operations outside Hong Kong and are thus unable to submit the information requested by FCAB or attend the hearings. Given that the appeals are considered by FCAB on a case-by-case basis, it is difficult to predict the time needed to conclude all cases.
To enhance transparency, FCAB has started uploading the decisions of appeal cases for public information by year of the decisions made onto its website since this February. In addition, FCAB also informs appellants in writing of its work progress regularly. FCAB will further consider the proposal of improving the presentation of information on its website.
(3) and (4) In formulating the assistance package, the Government has already given due consideration to the possible impacts of trawl ban on related trades. This was also thoroughly deliberated by the Legislative Council Finance Committee when it examined the assistance package. At that time, we were of the view that impact of the trawl ban on related trades (including ice manufacturing and fishing gear supplies) should not be significant.
Since the implementation of the trawl ban, we have been monitoring the situation of the relevant trades. Having regard to the impact on inshore fish collectors which mainly served trawlers and their owners were facing genuine difficulties, the Government decided in 2014 to provide assistance to them. We have completed the vetting of all such cases in mid-2016, and are arranging disbursement of EGA of $90,000 and relevant loan interest subsidies for each eligible fish collector owner. The total outlay is about $2.5 million. In addition, to help sustain the development of fish collectors, their owners may apply for various fisheries loan funds from AFCD, including the Fish Marketing Organisation Loan Fund and Fisheries Development Loan Fund.
AFCD has also maintained close liaison with stakeholders of other related trades. According to our understanding, after the implementation of the trawl ban, some inshore trawlers have switched to other modes of operations while the remaining fishing vessels (including those operating outside Hong Kong waters and local non-trawlers) have continued their original mode of operation. They continue to demand for services offered by the related trades.
Fish traders operating in the wholesale fish markets of the Fish Marketing Organisation (FMO) once indicated that they were affected by the trawl ban. Yet, records of FMO show that after the implementation of the trawl ban, the total volume of fresh marine fishes marketed through FMO has remained largely stable in the past three years, ranging from 35 400 tonnes to 36 100 tonnes each year. The total value of sale during the same period has increased from $1.76 billion to $2.12 billion.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:10
Issued at HKT 16:10