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Hong Kong Diners' Appetite for Seafood Concerns Conservationists


People in Hong Kong are among the world's top consumers of seafood. And conservationists say this appetite contributes to the overexploitation of marine species. To counter the problem, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has begun distributing a seafood dining guide in Hong Kong to raise public awareness about sustainable fishing. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Hong Kong.

A fishing boat returns to the Hong Kong docks from the South China Sea. Its live haul is sold quickly and soon is on the way to the city's thousands of restaurants.

People in Hong Kong are among the most voracious consumers of seafood in Asia.

They pay top dollar for large fish such as groupers -- reef fish that the World Conservation Union network warns face extinction because of overfishing and pollution.

"Ninety percent of our seafood comes from outside Hong Kong," says Clarus Chu, a marine conservationist with the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He says some of Hong Kong's favorite foods are among the most vulnerable marine species in the world.

This year, the WWF began distributing a seafood dining guide identifying endangered marine species. The WWF hopes to make Hong Kong consumers more responsible seafood diners.

The guide recommends avoiding 23 species such as red crab, shrimp and cuttlefish caught in the South China Sea, some species of grouper, caviar and shark.

Instead, the WWF recommends eating cultured Australian rock lobster, black cod from North America and Alaskan salmon.

"Ultimately, we want the change of behavior of consumers here in HK [to] help the marine environment in the world,” says Chu. “Consumers have the power to change. Because if the consumer tells the retailer or the supplier we don't have unsustainable seafood then, they will tell the fisherman or tell the government to manage the fishery, to have a better practice on producing this type of seafood."

In a city where shark's fin soup is considered tradition, trying to change consumers' habit may be swimming against the tide.

Joanne Lo says she and her family go to seafood restaurants once a week. "I don't really order the really big fish,” she says. “I usually order the smaller one because I don't think it's good to order the big ones because they are endangered."

She says many people in Hong Kong are not aware of how endangered some species are. "Most of the people who love seafood are older people who don't really have the concept of protecting the fish population and stuff."

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Office says more than 75 percent of world fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion.

Given that outlook, the WWF says it is important for Hong Kong diners to cut back on their seafood meals now, to make sure there will be enough fish to enjoy in the future.

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