Hong Kong Fishermen Keep Old Ways

Fisherman Ng Koon-hee sails past a bridge where a worker hangs a banner to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, June 25, 2022.
Fisherman Ng Koon-hee sails past a bridge where a worker hangs a banner to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, June 25, 2022.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung

HONG KONG (AP) — Ng Koon-yau calmly pilots his small fishing boat through the azure waters of the South China Sea. The 79-year-old has been fishing ever since he can remember.

Ng and his 76-year-old brother Ng Koon-hee came to Hong Kong from Taishan in Guangdong province, across the border in the Chinese mainland, as youngsters in the 1950s. So did many others who settled in Hong Kong after the 1949 communist revolution, when the territory was a colony of Great Britain.

The move to Hong Kong was so long ago that the Ngs don't remember exactly when they arrived in Tai O, a remote and scenic fishing village on the west side of Hong Kong's Lantau Island.

They've worked side-by-side all along, largely unaffected by decades of political change, including campaigns that sometimes spilled into the territory from the Chinese mainland.

Many in Hong Kong worry that communist-ruled China is exerting ever more control over semi-autonomous Hong Kong, contrary to promises from Beijing to respect Hong Kong's civil liberties and its semi-autonomous status for 50 years after Britain handed the city to China 25 years ago, on July 1, 1997.

But Ng Koon-yau is fine with Beijing being in charge.

“Hong Kong is part of China, and I've never thought of moving anywhere else," he said. “I hope that China will make Hong Kong a better place, where everyone can prosper. For us in Tai O, we wouldn't think of moving away to live anywhere else."

Tai O's homes perched on stilts above its small harbor, are a picturesque remnant of skyscraper-studded Hong Kong's past. Hundreds of years ago, before the British colonists arrived in the mid-1800s, fishing was a way of life here and in other villages in the Pearl River Delta region.

But small-scale coastal fishing is a dying industry in Hong Kong.

The Ngs used to ply the seas in a big vessel, netting thousands of fish a day. Now they keep only a small boat and haul in small catches.

“Now there are fewer and fewer fish for us to catch. The waters in the Pearl River Delta and around Guangdong are so polluted, so there are fewer fish," Ng Koon-yau said.

Younger Hong Kongers are moving on.

“In the 1960s, there were more than 10,000 people living here, but the population has been gradually falling, with the young people going off to work in the city," Ng said.

“My sons have gone off to work in the city. Now it's just us old people, and only about 2,000-3,000 living here," he said.

Tourism is now a big business for Tai O’s remaining residents: Selling dried fish snacks and prawn sauce to visitors and running sightseeing boats. One of the attractions is to catch a sight of a pink dolphin. Dwindling like the Tai O villagers, some of the special dolphins are still left, sometimes breaking the sea's surface within view of the skyscrapers of the city.

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