ML 163401


Interview 29:57 - 1:06:12 Play 29:57 - More
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Yvonne Sadovy, Christopher Joyce  







Hong Kong fish trade discussion.  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
18 Feb 2004

  • Hong Kong
    Hong Kong
  • 22.27535   114.18668
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
  • Sennheiser MKH 30
  • Sennheiser MKH 40
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS stereo; Sonosax preamp

Show: Hong Kong/Philippines
Log of DAT #: 1
Engineer: Marty Kurcias
Date: March 2004

(0.04) Sounds of the street¿cars honking, driving by

(0.07) MK: 'K today is ... Wednesday February 18th we're in Hong Kong standing outside our hotel, the Empire Hotel on Hennessey road and we are recording with a MKH 40, MKH 30, MS Pair on a Sony DAT D8, Sonosax Preamp -- low frequency cut out -- gains set at low and here come the bus

(0.41) Sound of bus idling -- street sounds in background. The bus moves forward leaving only street sounds -cars accelerating, honking


(2:20) MK: 'K this is sound in the cab... (Clears throat)

(2:24) Sounds inside the cab, the cabbie talking on his phone, the dispatcher over the radio, the turn signal blinking, doors opening, MK asking for a receipt and paying fare

(5:23) Cab drives away -Normal street sounds. Woman asks if the equipment is heavy. Response -- Engineers never talk. They decided to keep rolling. Sounds of walking down the street -footsteps, talking in background, cars driving by ask about renting a cellphone. Walking up stairs inside building. Side conversations. Woman talking -Follows CJ and MK's footsteps to ferry terminal.

(7:18) MK: We're in the ferry terminal. We're slating.

(7:22) More sounds of walking and people talking in the background -clock rings in the background

(8:44) Door creeks open

(9:02) Loud overhead announcement -- woman speaking

(9:22) High-pitched squealing in background -sounds like someone squeezing a balloon.

(11:20) A whistle blows

(11:31) Sound of a ferry pulling up to dock people talking in the background ferry idles at the dock

(12:02) Waves lapping the dock.

(12:18) Man talking in English in the background -what he is saying is indistinguishable over the waves and the engine -continues talking through 14:25

(15:03) Passenger conversations, noise of ferry crossings

(20:16) School children saying ¿Hello! Hello!¿ children's voices, whistle blowing

(23:25) MK: That was a bunch of school kids, like kindergarten age, looked like they were on an assignment to write down what they see as they go on the ferry

(23:40) Wave sound becomes more noticeable, children's voices still audible in the background

(24:23) Ferry whistle -waves and children continue in background

(25: 46) CJ: Through pleasuredom decreed/ where out the sacred river ran/ through cavernous measureless to man/ down to a sunless sea... You want more? I knew a woman/lovely in her bones./when small birds/sighed she would sigh back at them , law when she moved, she moved more ways than one, the shapes a bright container can contain -

(26:04) YS: How could I follow that?

(26:12) Music in the background -discuss how it's no good in the background -gentleman's personal raido. Wait on him to leave. Check voice levels. They recite poems and discuss.

(28:27) MK: Alright this is an interview with Yvonne, how do you pronounce your last name?

(28:31)YS: Sadovy

(28:32) MK: Yvonne Sadovy and Chris Joyce on board the Star Ferry in Honk Kong. And, uh, Chris is on an MKH 50 and Yvonne's on the, uh, MKH 40 in the zeppelin, uh, low filter in, Chris is on the right channel. Yvonne's on the left and right now we're just waiting to stop the ferry here.

(29:04) CJ: We could set the record, Guinees Book of Records, for the number of trips across the Hong Kong Harbor.


(29:14) Sounds of the ferry, doors closing, people in background, a woman talking

(29:59) CJ: Ok?

(30:00) MK: We're rolling

(30:01) CJ: So just say who you are and what you do

(30:04)YS: My name is Yvonne Sadovy and I am anassociate professor at the University of Hong Kong, Department of Ecology and Biodiversity

(30:13) CJ: And, um, we're sitting on a ferry, star ferry that goes across the Hong Kong harbor. What I'd like to ask you is to tell me a bit about Hong Kong and its harbor, if you will, and the role it plays in the live fish trade. And and you can also talk about what live fish trade is, but what is the role that Hong Kong plays in that trade

(30:35) YS: In the live fish trade? Hong Kong is... The live, The live reef fish trade is is a trade, is quite a large international trade in fish that are moved around and sold alive. Hong Kong is the major center of the trade. And what that means is that fish, uh, it's a large international trade, fish come in from all over the Indo-Pacific so from the Pacific Ocean, from the Indian Ocean, uh, a large volume of fish is channeled through Hong Kong, uh, some of the fish are eaten here, they're sold in the restaurants, so they're kept in aquaria, uh, alive, and then customers come along and then would chose the fish that they want and then is gone immediately to be cooked. Another large proportion of the fish come through Hong Kong and then they're reexported into mainline China. So that's into Peoples, what we would call Peoples Republic of China. And the market and demand for live reef fish, uh, which is a relatively new, uh... (CJ: phenomenon) Phenomenon. Is growing very rapidly within mainline China, and so what we're seeing what we have seen over the last 5, 5 to 10 years is that an increasing number of fish that come into Hong Kong, which is still the major trade center are now going into mainland China, um the market is growing, Hong Kong business are opening up, uh, offices in Shanghai and Beijing and so the prediction is that there'll be an increasing number of fish going through Hong Kong and into China.

(32:09) CJ: Do you have any kind of quantitative measure of the percent of all the, of the fish that come into Hong Kong that are part of the live fish trade and, and how much its grown?

(32:19) YS: The, the this live this live fish trade has grown a lot in the last 10 years. What I should add is that before the 1990s there was within the region quite a, a substantial trade in live fish, freshwater fish, uh, fish that were caught in local coastal waters and then maintained alive, so the live reef food fish trade is not actually a new trade. What is new is the increase in demand, and therefore the increase in volume of fish that are taken and then the places that the fish are coming from have been increasing greatly so now adays in the 90s and and, uh, now, we're seeing fish coming increasingly from distant places, from places within the Indian Ocean, um the Seychelles, the Maldives from within in the Pacific Ocean, uh as far out as Kirabass (sp?) and Tonga. That's what's new within the nineties.

(33:14) CJ: And they come here? They come right into this harbor, right? How do they get in? I mean are they big ships, are they flow in? How does that happen?

(33:32) YS: Yea, live fish come into Hong Kong in two ways. They're either flown in, and we just have the one airport, or they come in by sea and the large... There's sort of cargo ships which have been adapted to carry large volumes of live fish so a lot of them are now specially built to transport live fish, uh, these fish come in by sea from places where the airlinks are not very good. So whether or not the fish come in by air or by sea depends very much on where they're coming from and the nature of the airlinks. I would say in the 90s a large proportion of the fish came in by sea and many of them would actually pass through this harbor going to the various landing docks close to the harbor in Hong Kong.

(34:11) CJ: You can probably see them from here. Can you?

(34:13) YS: Actually you can. If you look behind me, Lai Yu Mun, which is where I guess we'll visit later on, you could see one of the places close to where they get landed. So these large container ships, adapted for live fish, come in and they unload the fish on these various docks and then they're maybe sold directly to businesses that then it's a complicated chain actually of trade. The fish are unloaded from the boats then they might be taken to wholesale markets where theyre then sold on to the retail markets or the fish might be kept in floating cages in the waters here until maybe the price is right or the market is right or whatever or until theyre then shipped through into mainland China. It's a complex trade; there are lots of different steps to the trade. Essentially, though the fish come in by sea or by air and increasingly we're seeing that as air links are improving from many of the source countries, as they improve more and more of the fish are coming in by air than by sea so we're seeing a shift in the imports of these animals.

(35:18) CJ: Um, now when you say that they're brought in by ship someplaces here and then they go to markets, I look over here at this Hong Kong island and I see high rises 100 stories high. I just can't imagine fish markets in there but they are right? (YS: Yes) I mean how many are there and what sort of species do they trade?

(35:37) YS: There are probably, in terms of numbers of fish markets, main ones that sell live fish and what you would see is little shops that have a collection of live fish and they're close to restaurants and the customer comes along and they select the live fish and the fish will be taken to a very nearby restaurant cooked and then it would be eaten. There are two or three major complexes like that you could call them with the shops and the restaurants together in Hong Kong. And one of them as I say is Lai Yu Mun, which we'll go to later, and another one is further to the north in the new territories called Si.Chang (sp?) which is also right on the sea. And these are places that are very popular with people in Hong Kong and also visitors from Mainland China. Families go for special occasions, businesses will take clients to, they're special they're special meals. The prices are, they can be quite expensive and people go on a special outing on the weekend particularly on holidays.

(36:42) CJ: Tell me some of the species that are taken that are most popular for people in the live fish trade.

(36:49) YS: I would say there are a lot of different species, but the most important ones in terms of sort of the numbers that you see sold are the Groupers. The Groupers are an important group of animals that live on coral reefs and of those probably there are about 4 or 5 species that we see most often and those are the ones that we'll see in the tanks.

(36:14) CJ: And what are those?

(37:15) YS: Sorry?

(37:15) CJ: What are the names of those?

(37:16) YSL: Oh, the English names would be things like Tiger Grouper, Camouflage Grouper, Coral Trout, which is a beautiful red animal with with bright blue spots. That's very popular. So there are several species of Grouper: Brown Spotted Grouper, Green Spotted Grouper

(37:34) CJ: Giant Grouper

(37:35) YS: There's a Giant Grouper, which has, yes, that grows that's the largest of all reef fish that's the largest reef fish in the world It's a massive animal. So you see a few of very a few of the very large ones in the tanks, but generally we see the smaller ones are sold. Then a very popular species that's not a grouper, but is a very high value fish is the Humphead Wrass or Napoleon or Maori Wrass it's also known as. Which is another very large reef fish. It's very popular for the texture of the flesh, the flavor of the meet, and that occurs in reasonable numbers here in the markets. So those would be the main several species of Grouper, the Humphead Wrass and then a wide range of other species, but they only occur in small numbers basically.

(38:23) CJ: Lets wait a minute.

(38:24) Background ambi -CJ talks about waiting a bit until people get off and settle down. Clock chimes the hour. Ferry fills up. Sound of children in the back.

(40:16) CJ: Ok, Um why Hong Kong why wouldn't it be in Singapore, why wouldn't it be Tokyo? What's special about Hong Kong that makes the trade come through here?

(40:25) YS: There is trade that goes through Singapore. Its just that Hong Kong is the biggest trade center. And I would ... Hong Kong is a major trade center its not just for live fish its for a whole range of other organisms and products and commodities. It is just a major trade center. It has a long history of making... a lot of its income comes from trade. So I think that's partly the answer.

(40:50) CJ: But fish also play a really important role in Chinese culture.

(40:53) YS: Yes, fish are very important in Chinese culture so they're not only eaten here, but they're eaten in Singapore and Chinese communities in Indonesia and throughout the region. So live fish are eaten in all of these places, but Hong Kong is a major trade center, partly because its history and also there is a very large and growing demand within mainland China and it is, I understand, technically more difficult to import live fish and organisms straight into Mainland China so there are a lot of trade links between Hong Kong and Mainland China and at the moment, it just seems to be that that's the best way and the cheapest way to ship live fish through. I'll just give you one example to illustrate what I mean. There is a tariff which if you bring live fish directly into Mainland China from outside of China -- I don't include Hong Kong as outside of China obviously -- you have to pay this tariff. You don't have to do it if you do it through Hong Kong. So there are some practical reasons, there are some historical reasons why Hong Kong why Hong Kong is a major trade center for live fish. And of course there is a very large for live fish generally in the region.

(42:05) Brief pause for ambient sound

(42:20) CJ: So there's this burgeoning trade in live fish and as China gets wealthier it's just going to grow. Why is that a problem? So what?

(42:28) YS: So what -always a good question. One of the problems... There are a number of problems associated with the live fish trade. One of them is that the kinds of animals that are included in the trade, these are the Groupers, these are the larger reef fish, are naturally not the most common components of reef ecosystems. They have a biology which makes them very vulnerable to over-exploitation anyway. And what I mean by that is they live a long time, they have slow reproduction rates, so they can't withstand sort-of heavy removals, they need the time to recover. So here you have a quite vulnerable group of organisms which is being used, ever more intensively for, or being exploited ever more intensely for a trade which is growing and without... Demanded predict to grow in the future. With the demand we have already and the work that has been done within the 1990s we're seeing that where fish have been sourced from, in other words where they been taking from to service this particular market, there are already quite severe declines in local Grouper stocks and other species that are used in the trade. And I'll (mans voice 'That's fine') give you maybe some specific examples, and this is from some of the work that I've been involved in. In the Philippians, which is a very important source of live fish and in particular the Northern part of Palawan it's an island called Busuanga there has been a large business sourcing Groupers, in particular the beautiful red coral trout for the live trade and they've been there for a number of years. And the fisherman reported, this is from directly from interviews with fisherman in the fishing communities who are catching these fish and supplying the fish to the traders and then export them to places like Hong Kong, the fisherman are finding that year after year they have to travel further and further to get the fish that they need to supply the trade and some of them were needing to travel, everyday, two or three hours out to their fishing grounds 'course two or three hours back again to maintain their catches. And this has been a progressive thing. Moving your fishing grounds like that, declining fish sizes, which they've also noted and a number of other indicators are widely accepted signs of over fishing. And we see that in this location and there are many other vary similar examples. In Busuanga, the next stage that appears to be going into place now is that, in many places the fisherman cannot get fish of the right size that are required in the market. There are certain sizes which are preferred here by the restaurants -a practical consideration.

(45:11) CJ: Explain how that works... Ok finish your point then...

(45:15) YS: [Within this segment, the ambi becomes louder, especially the children's voices] Ok, Let me do that then and then ill go back to the size cause its quite important. What's happening now is that market, what I call market-sized fish, fish that are caught ready to be sold to the live trade market are no long available in very large numbers, so what's happening is that smaller and smaller fish are being caught. Now they have sub-market size so the prices is not very good. So what's happening is that now is that fishermen are putting those smaller fish, many of them are juvenals now, they're sub-adult size, and then they're growing them out, feeding them fish, in other words in captivity until they become market size and then they're selling them all. So here we have, in this particularly fishery, this is just this one example, a reduction and loss of adult fish, then you get removal of the young fish because they've grown out to market size and what this together does is to greatly reduce the reproductive capacity of these populations of fish and in the long term it will take a lot of time for these populations to recover. Now some of these same fish they use not just for export, but they use for local food fish so you also have an impact on the fish supply and the food supply to the local communities. So, I use this just as an example of the different stages that we've witnessed already. And if you then see an increase in demand for these fish that can't withstand heavy fishing pressure you can predict that that could have quite an impact on regional stocks.

(46:42) Stop for ambi on kids in background -CJ explains the point of recording ambi sound to YS.

(49:24) CJ: Ok, what was the point you wanted to make?

(49:25)YS: The question was about, you know, 'What is the concern about the live fish trade?' One of the concerns about the live fish trade is simply over fishing of species which cannot withstand heavy fishing pressure and that basically has to do with their biology. One of the other concerns is that as several species that are really preferred in the trade are considered to be threatened, and one of those is the Humphead Wrass which is also known as the Napoleon or Maori Wrass and this species we think is particularly threatened because it's not a very common species anyway and it has a very high value in the trade. And what that means is that even if numbers go very low because its is over fished, its biologically vulnerable, so easily over fished, so if numbers go very low in a typical fishery, people tend to stop fishing the fish, because it just costs to much to go out and catch individual ones. In a trade like the live fish trade, which is essentially a luxury trade, people pay a lot of money for these fish it's a highly valued market. The most preferred species, even when the numbers go low, there's still an incentive, because of their high value there's still an incentive for fishermen to go out and continuing catching them. And in fact, worse than that, as they become more rare, they become even more valued and so here you have a species that appears to be threatened, and then on top of that its desirability increases in this luxury market. So that's a second concern. And the third area in which there is some concern is that there are somewhat damaging fishing techniques used in some areas, not in all by any means, but in some areas of the Philippines and in eastern Indonesia cyanide, sodium cyanide is used to catch the fish, ironically to keep them alive. It's a poison but if you catch the fish and then you take the animal into fresh water it does enable you to keep it alive. But cyanide has been shown to damage corals in experimental circumstances, so there's a concern about that. And finally, there is a increasing use of spawning aggregations for fishing.

(51:44) CJ: Now what is a spawning aggregation?

(51:44) YS: Yes, what is a spawning aggregation? Spawning is reproduction and many of the larger reef fish, including the groupers, many of those that are used in the live trade, they come together in big groups, in aggregations at certain times of the year, very limited times of the year in very specific locations to reproduce, in other words, to spawn. Now because you get big groups of these animals and because theses aggregations form in the same place, at the same time, every year they make very good fishing targets. And once they're discovered, they're often very heavily fished. Now some businesses will fish these aggregations for the live trade, and some say that they prefer not too because fish that are full of eggs, they're reproductively active, fish that are full of eggs tend to have a quite a high mortality, they die quite readily. It might be stress related; we're not sure. So there's a very mixed feeling within the trade about whether or not to use spawning aggregations. But our own work, this was most recently in Fiji, showed that live traders in Fiji at least, do target aggregation, so we know that it does go on. And we also know that there's some debate about whether or not it's suitable. So I guess in summarizing, there's a number of concerns already with the trade and then on top of that we see a real likelihood of an increase in demand. So the question is to what extent can the natural regenerative capability of these resources that are so desired, can they withstand this trade if there's no management. (CJ interrupts ¿Do you think that...¿) and that's really where the concerns lie.

(53:16) CJ: Do you think that these fish can withstand the kind of increase in the trade that's going to happen?

(53:20) YS: I ... at the moment there are still new places to go to get fish so as the trade expands, they'll be going to new places. But what the experience has been is that this is somewhat of a what I would call, what others have called, I suppose, boom and bust type fishery. You get a business going into an area, they do very, very well maybe for a couple of years and then the stocks, the local populations of desired fish species, go down and then they move on. Now you can only move on so far, there are only so many reefs. And what my concern is and the concern of others it that it won't be that long before we reach the end of this. And unless there is management then the... Unless there is management then populations of these reef fish will be reduced and that could have long-term effect on the local communities that depend on these local reef fish. They're valuable fish, not just alive, they're also valuable dead within countries. So there's a very real concern over the long-term implications of the trade and the way it's practiced at the moment.

(54:31) Pause for ambi. CJ and YS discuss how easy it is to concentrate when you don't understand the language being spoken around you.


(56:07) CJ and YS talk about questions to maybe use. Then they get some more ambi

(57:19) CJ: Um, I know you don't want to say it. I could probably say it ¿ you know more about this than anyone in the world. I mean you've been doing this, studying live fish trade for... how long?

(57:34) YS: Since about the mid 1990s.

(57:37) CJ: You look shocked. Did I stun you?

(57:39) YS: Well no, because what I think is that I mean, the people who really know about the trade, the mechanics of the trade lets say, are the traders. And I would say those who expert and import they know a lot about the trade. One of the hard things about studying it is that its changing a lot rapidly. Source countries are ever changing, trade routes are forever changing, preferred species -there may be some change there. All of those things are changing and its very difficult to keep up with that. So studying can be very frustrating because you want to be as accurate and true as possible. And there's also sort of a lot of negative press which in some ways, I believe, has been a little bit unwarranted. And I'll just give you the example is cyanide the use of cyanide. Yes, I understand cyanide is used, its used in certain areas but its not used everywhere, and I think most of us now can see that the major issue is not the use of cyanide -and I'm not saying it's a good thing, of course its not a good thing to use a poison as a fishing method -but its to do with overexploitation. The biggest problem is over exploitation of reef resources which simply cannot take high levels of exploitation. Now its particularly an issue in the live reef food fish trade because there's a large international market, a large export market in other words, which is fairly unusual for reef fish until relatively recently. So, there's the volume involved, there's the value of the trade, which means there's a lot of interest to take a lot of fish, but the bottom line is over fishing and over fishing is an issue in many coral reef fisheries in general. So what I feel in the early days is that we somewhat missed the point by focusing in on this very shocking cyanide issue where as actually the bigger issue is over fishing. And it's a very scary issue because its not attracting the attention I think it needs to attract, there for its not attracting people to do the work on it, nor the funding and that's the fundamental issue that the live fish trade is sort of at the forefront of. And I should clarify. What I mean by reef fish fisheries is not only the live fish component, which is the major export component, but also the chilled fish component, there's a very large dead fish component to reef fisheries which are commercial, it's a commercial component.

(1:00:16) CJ: And aquarium fish too.

(1:00:17) There's aquarium fish too, yes. Aquarium fish too. Aquarium fish are a little bit different because many of those species may not be nearly as susceptible to over fishing as in the live fish trade which concentrates on a much smaller number of species, so its focused on relatively few species, many of which are very, very vulnerable. The aquarium trade involves a lot, a much wider range of species, many of which are probably not as vulnerable. I say that but we don't have the biology in many cases on many of the species.

(1:00:50) Um, as a biologist, you could be doing anything you want, and organism you want, anywhere in the world, I suppose. What is it about fish that really get you going. That really gets you excited.

(1:01:05) Interesting question. I think that, I've dived from a very young age, I love the water and I've always wanted to do something in biology. So obviously some link with the sea and with water at least and animals. So why fish amongst those? I sort of almost remember a point in time where I read a paper about the fact that fish, so fish are a vertebrate, they have a back bone like ourselves, and share many biological characteristics actually with other animals with backbones. They have a very peculiar thing that they do which is they change their sex, and it was when I learned that fish could do this, change from an adult female to an adult male, and the other way around, that their, behaviorally they fascinated me. And that's never been disappointed, that initial impression, um, I've never been disappointed. In fact, fish are half of all vertebrates, so there's 24/25,000 fish species which is half of vertebrate species. It's the first thing I teach my students; actually, people don't realize that there are so many fish. And along with that great diversity of species is an incredible diversity of behaviors, of colors, of I mean, they're fantastic animals, and when I started working on them in the 80s, there was relatively little know about their behavior. So I started working on biology, you know, just pure biology, and on this rather peculiar thing known as sex-change, and trying to understand sex-change. And not only did I discover that these animals change their sex, their functional sex, so they reproduce as one sex and then they reproduce as another, but that change in many species is controlled socially. So you change in aspect of their social environment, you remove a male, you take away a bunch of females, and they will actually change their functional sex. So it was a fascination with the biology of this group of animals, and then it turned out that the animals I was working on, the Groupers which change their sex, were also commercially important, so I got into fisheries, and then when I moved to Hong Kong in the early 90s very soon afterward there was a live fish trade. So it was sort of a natural progression in a way.

(1:03:20) CJ: So Freud was right really, its all about sex

(1:03:23) YS: Maybe he was, yes.

(1:03: 28) CJ: Well I mean sort of after you discover the fact they change there sex, where is there to go after that?

(1:03:33) I know. Well I'm still working on sex-changing fish, so maybe I'll never go any further.

(1:03:41) Ambi -CJ recites poetry about what heaven would be like for fish and how much he likes fish

(1:04:45) YS: And they do such strange things, and some of them are so very beautiful. I think that's why a lot of people are very interested to work with coral reef fish, apart from the fact that the water's warmer, its more that they are very beautiful. The way they look, their colors and their fantastic fins, and their shapes, their odd shapes, their (CJ -They're taste) fabulous shapes, well no, no taste is sort of something later. Those physical aspects about them is one of the first things that I find that the students I have at the university are attracted to. Because the only thing that they've known about fish before is the taste. Is they've seen them dead by the time, by the time they're dead, of course, most of them don't have those lovely colors, and suddenly they realize that they can be, that they are beautiful and they are more interesting then just as something to eat. And they're attracted by the way they look and their colors.

(1:05:46) CJ: I like the way they taste.

(1:05:47) YS: So do I.

(1:05:51) CJ: Do you eat Grouper?

(1:05:52) SY: Yes, I do. I like Grouper. I mean, I enjoy eating these fish. The one fish I wouldn't eat now is the Humphead Wrasse, Napoleon Wrasse, because we feel it really is quite threatened, so I would feel uncomfortable about that. But I like Grouper. I like to eat fish. I want to see these things continue to be available and not at extortionate prices either.

(1:06:16) Discus missed questions, being on the ferry so long


(1:06:42) MK: Ok this is ambiance on the Star Ferry at the front of boat as we take off. Got an MS Pair, low filter, out.

(1:07:06) END OF TAPE

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