Size matters! Know your fish.

Bertha Aquaculture, Dining, Health, mislabelling, Overfishing

Steamed fish is a staple for Hong Kong families and a favoured dish among diners in Chinese restaurants.

We are perfectionists when it comes to our fish. Every step involved in cooking a dish has to be carried out flawlessly; even a few extra seconds on the stove will ruin the fish and the diner’s appetite.

While both restaurants and home chefs carefully fuss over creating the perfect fish, they overlook one critical aspect: the fishes’ sustainability. Yet without paying attention to where the fish is from, how it was caught and whether or not the species is endangered, this staple may disappear from our dining tables in the near future because of over-fishing and over-consumption.

As environmentally conscious consumers, how can we choose sustainable fish from our local wet markets, especially when there is little information available to help us make informed choices?

Recognising this challenge, Choose Right Today (an ADMCF Initiative) and BLOOM Association Hong Kong, have developed an “Identification Guide to Live Reef Food Fish in Hong Kong’s Wet Market”.

This bilingual identification guide is the first of its kind for wet markets and includes information such as:

  1. Scientific and common names of the 41 popular live reef fish (LRFF) found at local markets
  2. Sustainability and conservation status i.e. the ICUN Red List of these 41 species
  3. Fish morphology
  4. WWF seafood guide recommendations

The guide is based on surveys from December 2017 conducted at two major local markets to find out how many sustainable fish choices were available. It found that out of 41 popular live reef fish (LRFF) available, five were vulnerable, two were endangered and 17 were near threatened species as listed on the IUCN Red List. The conservation status of the remaining 17 species had not been assessed.

The guide then contains important sustainability indicators about live reef food fish, such as its origin, catch method, whether it is certified as sustainably- or responsibly-sourced and whether its wild population is at risk of extinction. An important indicator is size, because increasingly juveniles are being caught for human consumption, often before they are sexually mature and have had time to reproduce. So, size matters! The guide indicates the size of the mature fish so it is easy to identify if those on sale are likely to be juveniles – and not a sustainable choice.

It is easy to look for freshness, price and size over sustainability when buying fish – especially when so little information about sustainability is available. However, the global demand for fish is simply driving many of our favourite species such as Humphead Wrasse, Humpback Grouper, Leopard Coral Grouper, as well as species such as sharks, blue fin tuna and US black cod, to the brink of extinction. All it takes is the ever-advancing fishing technologies, unethical and illegal fishing practices and insatiable human consumption.

We urge you to research your favourite fish species before your next visit to a wet market. Make better choices and check out Choose Right Today’s wet market page.