New fish farming standards designed to lift Hong Kong’s aquaculture sector
Hong Kong needed an edge to increase the value of its fisheries products and allow them to compete against imports, especially from nearby Guangdong, one of China’s biggest aquaculture regions. So the city formulated an innovative policy to help local aquaculture farmers compete against imports, while also reassuring consumers on quality, according to Henry Yip, the market manager of Hong Kong’s Fish Marketing Organization.
The city’s government recently adopted a voluntary "Accredited Fish Farm Scheme" (AFFS) to promote the sustainable development of the local aquaculture industry. The standard was designed to help the city’s aquaculture businesses to adapt best practices, while also increasing transparency through standardization of production processes, which in turn reassures local consumers. The AFFS also conducts pre-marketing product tests and product branding.
With the help of the AFFS program, Hong Kong may serve as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to build on the scale and value of local aquaculture in the face of low-cost imported competition, Yip told SeafoodSource. Only five percent of the seafood consumed in Hong Kong is locally-sourced, but like Singapore, another major city in the region, Hong Kong wants to grow that percentage and the AFFS could be an ideal avenue to advance that mission, Yip said.
SeafoodSource: What percentage of Hong Kong aquaculture farms are enrolled in the AFFS scheme?
Yip: By number of fish farms, approximately one-tenth; by cultured area of fish farms, approximately one-quarter.
SeafoodSource: How do you incentivize or encourage farms to enroll in the AFFS?
Yip: For fish farmers that enroll in the AFFS, ongoing technical support and advice are provided to assist them with overcoming any related management problems. To ensure the quality of cultured fish as well as the culture environment at AFFS fish farms, sampling is conducted during regular visits. Free quality assurance tests on obtained samples are run, and certification is issued to fishery products that pass these tests. Complimentary veterinary services are also offered to fish farms under a project supported by the Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund (SFDF) to ensure effective disease control and prevention.
The food safety and traceability of products sold under the AFFS are also strong selling points to fish farmers. AFFS-certified products are sold under the AFFS brand and bear an AFFS traceable quick response (QR) code fish tag. By scanning the QR code with a mobile device, consumers can easily obtain information of the fishery product – such as its origin, its safety test results (such as ruling out the presence of malachite green, exceedances of drug residue limits and unsafe levels of heavy metals) and the contact number of the fish farm that supplied it.
To promote AFFS fisheries products and boost market demand, funding by the SFDF has been provided to support a project to create a platform for providing business opportunities on AFFS fisheries products for fish farmers, and the food and beverage, and hotel industry. Furthermore, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) works closely with the Fish Marketing Organization (FMO) to organize publicity events and participate in exhibitions and trade shows, with a view to promoting AFFS. Sales and distribution channels of the FMO are utilized to promote AFFS products.
SeafoodSource: Do fish farmers get a higher price for their fish if they are enrolled in the AFFS?
Yip: Those fish farmers who would like to sell their AFFS products with the assistance of FMO may sign a contract with FMO for fish species at mutually agreed prices. To encourage the fish farmers to provide a stable supply of the fish to the consumers, FMO will in general offer a higher price for their fish.
SeafoodSource: What percentage of Hong Kong’s aquaculture production comes from farms in Hong Kong rather than Guangdong or other mainland regions?
Yip: Local production of cultured marine and freshwater fish contributes to about 5 percent of total live fish consumption.
SeafoodSource: Is it possible to increase the level of quality local aquaculture production, or is the space too limited in Hong Kong?
Yip: At present, there is a large potential for existing Hong Kong fish farms that have yet to register with AFFS to join AFFS and produce quality fishery products. Ongoing promotional efforts are dedicated to raise public awareness and demand for quality fishery products. It is hoped that these measures will ultimately attract more fish farms to join AFFS.
In order to promote the sustainable development of the local fisheries industry, the HKSAR government has commenced the process of designating new Fish Culture Zones or FCZs. The proposed new fish culture zones, at various locations, cover some 600 hectares of sea area. Additionally, we have also begun issuing new marine fish culture licenses for existing FCZs with surplus carrying capacity, with a view to maximizing their production capacity, and hence, raising the current level of production in Hong Kong.
SeafoodSource: What is the awareness level of Hong Kong consumers to AFFS?
Yip: AFFS products are sold at wholesale fish markets, retail points, online shops, as well as through the Fish Marketing Organization and Vegetable Marketing Organization’s “Local Fresh” app，which, as of October 2020 has over 20,000 registered members. Additionally, various means of raising consumer awareness and market penetration of AFFS products are continuously being explored. Promotion activities are also carried out at retail stores to reach out to the target consumers. Through social media, such as Facebook, FMO provides the latest updates of the information on products and farms under the AFFS. Moreover, FMO has set up a brick-and-mortar store, which provides a platform for fish farmers and fishermen to promote their own products directly to the customers as well as selling AFFS products.
Photo courtesy of Henry Yip/LinkedIn