Environment & Health HKFP Voices

The fishy business behind seafood sourcing in Hong Kong

I have always been in love with seafood. I grew up near the sea where I affectionately and adeptly cracked open crabs from a young age. I swoon over a well-crafted ceviche and perfectly-done tandoori prawns. In recent years, this love has turned into a slightly dubious relationship: a questioning of labels, concern over my finned and clawed food’s journey from the sea to my plate, and even, gasp, breakups with particular varieties.

sai kung photo

Fresh seafood in Sai Kung. Photo: hillary.hc.chang.

It started with my feelings towards popular tuna. Seared, on a salad. Toro. Hidden under a layer of cheese, as a melt. I used to eat plenty of it… until I came across statistics of just how overfished tuna is.

Then came the catfish, whose homely looks belie its delectable taste. I’d eaten more than my share of Cajun spiced catfish until I realised that these whiskered beasts are often dosed with antibiotics if raised in Vietnam where regulations on these matters are lax. Unfortunately, living in Hong Kong, most of our catfish is likely to be the over-medicated variety from Vietnam.

Next, the dependable salmon. Salmon sashimi. Simply baked salmon fillets. These are frequent lunch and dinner choices. They still are, but now I try to choose with more discretion after learning about just how depleted stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are, and how polluted farmed Atlantic salmon (most of what is available in Hong Kong) can be.

salmon hong kong photo

Salmon sashimi is super popular in Hong Kong. Photo: lesleychoa.

Let me outline some of the most common concerns:

  1. Over-fishing
  2. Polluted fish (mercury, antibiotics, etc.)
  3. The environmental impact of some types of fish farms
  4. Damaging fishing practices (bottom trawling)
  5. Exploitation of labour
sai kung fish photo

Various types of seafood laid out at a seafood restaurant. Photo: Michael McDonough.

The factors to consider when choosing seafood that can be considered sustainable are complex and abundant. It doesn’t help that labels are questionable, and often cleverly leave information out and only list what is locally minimally mandated. Reliable information on seafood sources or clear guidance on what to choose floats in murky waters, but here is a list of websites I have found useful:

Seafood Watch

WWF guide to Hong Kong seafood

National Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable Seafood Guide lists some great general tips on how to choose what seafood to eat.

Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide

FishOnline has a great list of Marine Conservation Society recommended seafood that comes from sustainably managed sources.

That leaves a lot more fishing to do, for information anyway. Until then, here’s to trying to make more sustainable choices. I hope to see you when your stocks are plentiful again, tuna.

The fishy business behind seafood sourcing in Hong Kong