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LCQ20: Support for fishermen amid epidemic
     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
     It is learnt that due to the Mainland's heightened prevention and control measures following the outbreak of the fifth wave of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 epidemic, many floating fishing vessels of Hong Kong and Macao have been unable so far to carry out fishing operations in the Mainland waters. Those fishermen who can operate successfully at sea also find it difficult to trade their fish, arrange deckhands to work on board their vessels, provide replenishment and carry out maintenance and examination for their fishing vessels. Quite a number of fishermen have anticipated that the difficult operating environment may continue into next year, triggering a wave of closures and resulting in loan borrowers of fisheries loan funds (especially the Fisheries Development Loan Fund) being unable to repay their loans. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of Hong Kong-registered floating fishing vessels of Hong Kong and Macao berthing in Hong Kong during this year's fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, and the respective numbers of such fishing vessels (i) still berthing in Hong Kong and (ii) successfully going to carry out fishing operations in the Mainland waters after the fishing moratorium;
(2) of the measures in place to assist floating fishing vessels and fishermen who have been unable to go to carry out fishing operations in the Mainland waters in resuming normal production amid the epidemic;
(3) given that the next Lunar New Year period will be a peak season for Hong Kong and Macao floating fishermen to travel between the Mainland and Hong Kong, whether the Government has made preparations (e.g. whether it has communicated with Mainland fishery organisations and relevant government departments in the Mainland municipalities where floating fishermen hold household registration) to ensure the smooth navigation of these fishermen between the two places; and
(4) given that as typhoons strike the South China Sea from time to time, floating fishermen occasionally need to sail their fishing vessels back to Hong Kong for shelter, whether the Government will consider implementing the "reverse quarantine" arrangement for such fishermen (e.g. designating a part of area in the Hong Kong waters for centralised isolation of the personnel on board the fishing vessels), so that they can proceed to operate in the Mainland waters directly after completion of the isolation without having to undergo quarantine again on the Mainland?

     Regarding Hon Steven Ho's question, the reply is as follows:
(1) Hong Kong-registered Hong Kong/Macao mobile fishing vessels that intend to operate in the Mainland are only required to register with the relevant Mainland authorities and apply for a fishing permit/ancillary vessel permit. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) does not have the actual number of these vessels berthed in Hong Kong during and after the fishing moratorium in the South China Sea. According to the information provided by relevant Mainland authorities, as of end-October this year, around 700 of these vessels could gradually resume operations in Mainland waters after the fishing moratorium.
(2) and (3) According to the current anti-epidemic requirements of the Mainland, Hong Kong/Macao mobile fishermen who have completed quarantine at the Mainland homeports where they have vessel registration will be allowed to pick up deckhands, repair their vessels, resume operations, etc. in Mainland waters.
     In this connection, the AFCD, together with relevant bureaux, have been maintaining close liaison with relevant Mainland authorities including the Guangdong Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Hong Kong and Macao Floating Fishermen Business Office of various municipalities, so as to assist fishermen of the Hong Kong-registered Hong Kong/Macao mobile fishing vessels to make a reservation for undergoing quarantine at homeports where they have vessel registration and help them meet the anti-epidemic requirements of the Mainland (including COVID-19 vaccination and testing etc.).
     With the consent of owners of the fishing vessels who have indicated their intention of making a reservation for undergoing quarantine in the Mainland, the Government provided the information of the Hong Kong-registered Hong Kong/Macao mobile fishing vessels concerned to the Mainland authorities at provincial and municipal levels in early October this year, and they have followed up proactively. As informed by the relevant Mainland authorities, fishermen who intend to resume operation and have complied with the relevant regulations have completed quarantine in an orderly manner, or are being arranged by the relevant Mainland authorities to undergo quarantine in order for them to prepare for the resumption of operation.
     Besides, under the existing anti-epidemic measures of the Mainland, some of the Hong Kong-registered Hong Kong/Macao mobile fishing vessels have put on hold the plan of resuming operation in Mainland waters for the time being. Among these, some non-trawling mobile fishing vessels have opted to continue their fishing operations in Hong Kong waters. We understand that the resumption of operation of Hong Kong-registered Hong Kong/Macao mobile fishing vessels with Mainland deckhands continues to be affected amid the COVID-19 epidemic, the Government thus announced on October 28 that a subsidy of $80,000 would be provided to eligible fishing vessels under the Anti-epidemic Fund.
     We will continue to maintain communication with the relevant Mainland authorities, keep a close watch on the anti-epidemic requirements (including those during the period of Lunar New Year next year) and render assistance to the trade as appropriate.
(4) Under the premise of not increasing the risk of epidemic in the Mainland, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is sparing no effort in negotiating with the Mainland for the implementation of "reverse quarantine" (also known as "pre-departure quarantine") in Hong Kong, requiring Mainland-bound travellers to comply with the anti-epidemic standards of the Mainland in order to be able to travel to the Mainland under closed-loop arrangement after undergoing quarantine in Hong Kong. Hong Kong and Shenzhen are currently discussing the specific requirements for "pre-departure quarantine".
Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:00
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