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LCQ15: Impact of bird predation on agriculture and fisheries industry
     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 (December 7):
     Some members of the agriculture and fisheries industry have constantly relayed that quite a number of wild birds often forage in fish ponds and agricultural fields in the New Territories. However, section 4 of the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170) provides that no person shall wilfully disturb any protected wild animal, and the setting up of the bird prevention measures proposed by the Government is very cumbersome. This, coupled with frequent disturbances made to them by extreme environmentalists, has made it difficult for them to set up lawful bird prevention measures. As a result, fish farmers and farmers have great difficulty in protecting their private properties and have been suffering heavy losses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of complaints received by the authorities in the past three years about fish farmers and farmers allegedly using illegal bird prevention measures, as well as the average and longest time taken to handle such complaint cases; the number of prosecutions instituted by the authorities for contraventions of section 4 of Cap. 170, and the number of convictions thereof;
(2) how the authorities compensate fish farmers and farmers for their expenditures on bird prevention measures taken in compliance with the Government's policy, as well as their pecuniary losses due to bird predation; of the measures in place to reduce such expenditures and pecuniary losses incurred by them;
(3) whether it will continuously review the policy for the protection of birds and implement effective measures so that fish farmers and farmers will not have to bear the expenditures and pecuniary losses arising from their compliance with such policy, with a view to enabling the sustainable development of fish cultivation and agriculture; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) given that some fish farmers participating in the Nature Conservation Management Agreement Projects (conservation projects) relating to fish pond conservation have indicated that the amount of subsidies received by them is insufficient to make up for the loss of fisheries production due to bird predation and offset expenses on conducting drain-down of fish ponds, of the amount of funds allocated by the Government in each of the past three years to subsidise environmental groups in implementing such conservation projects and, among such funds, the amount spent on administrative and other costs; the number of fish farmers participating in the drain-down of fish ponds under such projects each year, as well as the total amount of subsidies actually received by such fish farmers and the average amount of subsidies received by each fish farmer per year; and
(5) given that some fish farmers not participating in the drain-down of fish ponds have pointed out that their fish ponds are located next to those fish ponds involved in the drain-down exercise and, as a result, a large number of birds have snatched all their fisheries production or disturbed their fish ponds, whether the authorities will adjust the relevant conservation projects, and make proper planning for the conservation areas and fish culture zones of the future Wetland Conservation Parks, relevant buffer areas and ancillary facilities, and at the same time encourage reputable agriculture and fisheries organisations to participate in the management of the projects, so as to promote the upgrading and transformation of the industry, as well as resolve conflicts; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The consolidated reply to questions raised by the Hon Steven Ho is as follows:
(1) Under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170) (the Ordinance), any person without authorisation shall not wilfully disturb or hunt any protected wild animal, including all wild birds. Over the past three years (i.e. 2019-20 to 2021-22), the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) prosecuted a total of two cases for contravening section 4 of the Ordinance, both of which were convicted. During the same period, the AFCD received 10 complaints against suspected use of illegal bird prevention measures by farmers or fish farmers, none of which was related to the abovementioned prosecuted cases. It usually takes three to six months to process these cases, and the relevant farmers or fish farmers have not adopted illegal bird prevention measures thereafter.
(2) and (3) The AFCD understands the concern of fish farmers and farmers over their loss due to predation by wild birds in fish ponds and farmlands. The AFCD aims to strike a balance between supporting the agriculture and fisheries industries as well as conservation of wild birds. Fish farmers and farmers are also provided with assistance in taking appropriate measures to reduce predation by wild birds in fish ponds or farmlands without causing any harm to wild birds. 
     The AFCD regularly organises talks and visits to fish ponds and farmlands for fish farmers and farmers to introduce methods on prevention of predation by birds as well as providing technical advice on bird prevention, such as wiring and hanging of reflective materials in fish ponds, or installing bird preventive netting and other measures in farmlands, so as to reduce their loss of produce. Should they need any financial assistance to put in place bird preventive measures, fish farmers and farmers can apply for grants under the Equipment Improvement Project of the Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund or the Farm Improvement Scheme of the Sustainable Agricultural Development Fund respectively so as to purchase the necessary materials, or apply for low-interest loans from loan funds administered by the AFCD.
     Moreover, the AFCD published two pamphlets on the Methods of Preventing Bird Predation in Fish Ponds and Methods of Preventing Bird Predation in Farmland for reference by farmers and fish farmers. According to the AFCD's observation, many farmers and fish farmers have adopted the AFCD's recommendations in reducing the risk of wild bird predation in their farmlands or fish ponds.
(4) During the periods from March 2019 to February 2021 and from March 2021 to February 2023, there were two Nature Conservation Management Agreement Projects conducted respectively in the Ramsar Site and Deep Bay Wetland outside the Ramsar Site. Fishpond operators participating in the projects need to drain-down the ponds for around seven days during harvest every year to provide more shallow water habitats for waterbirds to feed on the trash fish of low economic value left behind, hence increasing the ecological value of fishponds; in return, the fishpond operators will receive a management fee. The management fees issued under the projects are intended to subsidise the cost of draining-down with a view to encouraging fishpond operators to do so rather than to compensate the loss of fish due to bird predation. The amount of management fees is determined based on expenses including electricity and wages. Please refer to the Annex for the details of the projects.
(5) Through the implementation of the system of Wetland Conservation Parks (WCPs) under the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy, the AFCD will develop modernised and sustainable pond fish culture. The Government plans to introduce advanced aquaculture technology in some of the fish ponds within the WCPs, together with eco-friendly fish pond operations, to enhance the productivity, quality control and sustainability of fish culture.
     The AFCD has launched a strategic feasibility study on the establishment of a WCP system in August 2022 with the aim of completing the relevant study by end-2023 the earliest to confirm the exact boundary and management model of the proposed WCPs for construction. The AFCD will maintain communication with the agriculture and fisheries sectors, consult relevant stakeholders including the agriculture and fisheries sectors at appropriate times and invite suitable fisheries organisations to participate in the future operation and management of the fish ponds in the WCPs. The Government is happy to listen to the views of LegCo members and the industry and consider relevant proposals in details, so as to achieve a better balance between conservation and fisheries production.
Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:30
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