Hong Kong’​s Seafood Appetite Threatens Marine Species

Visitor at Hong Kong's Asia Seafood Exposition
Visitor at Hong Kong's Asia Seafood Exposition
Mark Godfrey

HONG KONG â€" Hong Kong's enormous appetite for seafood and its role as a hub for the global seafood trade is having an unfortunate impact on endangered fish species.

Chinese cuisine prizes seafood, so it's perhaps not surprising that per capita seafood consumption in Hong Kong averages 70 kilograms a year, about four times the global average. But the city is also a hub for trade into mainland China, where consumption is on the rise. All of that is putting a strain on endangered marine life and driving an unexpected sustainability push.

On a busy Saturday morning at Hong Kong's giant Aberdeen Fish Market, traders are milling around buying seafood for restaurants and the city's retailers. One of the dealers here is Betty Chu, who runs a distributor called Family Care Ltd., which imports seafood from all over the world.

"The market is really good," Chu says. "People are looking for prime products, they're health conscious, and they're willing to pay more for better food. We import globally lobster, scallop, abalone, shrimp, crabs and more. It's a lot! My business is good and growing every year."

But while business is booming, some of the city's seafood traders are switching to sustainable seafood. Wong Ping Chai, who runs the Hoi Kee Ho Fresh Seafood import company, began seeking out sustainable seafood several years ago when a Dutch supplier explained to him that many fish species were becoming scarce. It led him to join Fish and Season, a global fish trading network that trades only sustainably caught seafood.

At Hong Kong's Aberdeen floating fish market â€" Photo: Paul Stein

"Fish and Season is an organization originally from Holland that started around 1992," he says. "They found out in Europe the fish are getting fewer and fewer, and if it goes on it will be disastrous." He learned that the same thing was happening in Asia.

Ocean impact

Activists have been trying to educate consumers, and are encouraging them to be more careful about the seafood they buy. Allen To, who works in the Hong Kong offices of the World Wildlife Fund, monitors local imports and consumption of endangered seafood species. He says per capita consumption of seafood in Hong Kong is second in Asia and seventh in the world.

"That's why in Hong Kong we do have the responsibility to try not only to reduce our own ecological footprint but to try to reduce our impact on the ocean of many other countries," he says. "We believe if we can push sustainable seafood in Hong Kong, then eventually we can help at least to reduce our impact on fish resources, particularly in the Asia Pacific region."

But price is an issue. Keith Tsui, managing director of New Bon Marine, another Hong Kong seafood company concentrating on sustainable products, says education and government awareness campaigns are helping turn consumers onto sustainable seafood. But so far the focus has been on high-value species such as black cod, salmon and shellfish.

He wants to get lower-income groups switching to sustainable seafood too. "We are trying to get more products for the budget class," he explains. "A couple of years ago, we did a good job with a fastfood chain in Hong Kong. They use sustainable seafood for breakfast for the budget class. This is a great leap forward for us."

Campaigners want consumers to make sustainable choices, but they're also calling on Hong Kong’s political leaders to clamp down on illegal catches. The WWF's Allen To says illegal fishing has depleted stocks of rare wild fish such as grouper from the coral reefs of Southeast Asia.

"Hong Kong and China are the main trading and consumption areas for live reef fish, including grouper and the humpback wrasse," To says. "Many of the grouper species are already overexploited, and some of them are threatened species."

Seafood trader Keith Tsui, meanwhile, wants to bring more sustainably produced seafood products to Hong Kong by focusing on an innovative new approach in the retail sector and in schools.

"We will try to liaise more with school lunch boxes and let them tell the kids they are using sustainable food," Tsui says. "This customer group is the future. "They are the biggest influencers on their parents."

And Hong Kong wants to ensure there will be fish in the sea for future consumers.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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