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$1.50 for a golden threadfin bream

In the Seafood Guide recently updated by the WWF, the golden threadfin bream is listed under the “Avoid” category for the first time because of over-exploitation.

The golden threadfin bream is a common fish consumed by Hong Kong people. Its popularity is shown by the fact that Hong Kong’s $100 bill is commonly given the same name.

Almost 50 years ago, when I was in Primary 5 or 6, I lived in the police quarters in Sai Ying Pun. As we did not have a refrigerator, we had to go to the market every day to buy fresh food. At that time, my mother was busy making plastic flowers so as to earn more money to purchase a home. Since I attended the afternoon session of school, I walked 10 minutes every morning to the “Big Market” at the junction of Centre Street and Third Street to buy food, carrying a food basket (the first one was a rattan basket and the second one was plastic, which was an improvement because it was easier to clean).

The “Big Market” was multi-storey, with a whole floor dedicated to aquatic products. I bought fish nearly every day - either golden threadfin bream or yellow croaker. Standing behind the fish table in her plastic apron, the stout woman that I used to buy fish from looked very imposing. Back then, a golden threadfin bream cost only $2. Every time, after the woman weighed the fish, I would bargain for a $0.20 discount, such as from $1.80 to $1.60 or from $1.60 to $1.40. Without uttering a word, the woman would scale and gut the fish and sell it to me for $0.20 less.

How did I take the fish home? We did not use plastic bags at that time. The fish was wrapped in old newspaper and tied with a piece of dried weed. I would put it at the bottom of the basket, as otherwise all the vegetables and meat beneath it would have a fishy smell. When I arrived home, I would untie and unwrap the fish and then wash it to clean off any ink stuck to it.

My family used to cook the golden threadfin bream with tomato and potato, pan-frying the fish first. Deep and closely spaced slashes were made on the fish so that it could absorb the flavour of the tomato more easily. For dinners in which we had more time, after eating the fish, we would put the head and what was left of the fish into a pot and boil it with hot water. With a splash of white vinegar and a handful of coriander leaves, a simple fish soup was ready.

Now that even the golden threadfin bream is considered over-exploited, the management of fishery resources is indeed becoming more important.

August 13, 2013