A trip to the Aberdeen Fish Market.
Aberdeen Fish Market is a great place to visit.
To get to Aberdeen Fish Market take Bus 70 from Central, Bus 72 from Causeway Bay or Bus 73 from Cyberport or Stanley or grab a taxi from Central MTR for around $70.
Every day at 4am, while the city sleeps, Aberdeen Fish Market comes to life with people, trucks, boats and, of course, fish. Aberdeen Fish Market is the biggest and longest-running wholesale fish market in Hong Kong. At one time, it only supplied seafood to the Tai Pak Floating Restaurant and the Jumbo Floating Restaurant; but now, over 70 percent of live seafood in the city is traded here.
What’s on in Aberdeen Fish Market?
The trading of live fish is one of the distinguishing features of the Aberdeen Fish Market. The fish come mainly from the Dongsha Islands, the South China Sea, Hainan and the Philippines. Upon their arrival at the market, the first batches are immediately loaded onto trucks – fully equipped with live fish buckets and oxygenated tanks – and transported to wet markets and restaurants all over Hong Kong. Live seafood used to be transported to Jordan, Lei Yue Mun and Tai Kok Tsui by motorboat, but trucks started being used following construction of the Aberdeen Tunnel in the 1970s.
It takes only around 10 hours for fish caught in the Philippines to arrive live at wet market stalls. “Most locals like to buy live fish in the wet market, so I ensure all the fish that arrive at my stall in Kowloon are live and active” says Mr. Lau, a wet market fish stall owner.
Where to eat at Aberdeen fish market
Unknown to many, the Aberdeen Fish Market Seafood Restaurant is one of the city’s hidden gems. Run by fishermen for fishermen (but now also open to the public), the restaurant takes seafood direct from the boats and prepares an array of Cantonese-style dishes.
You must book a table in advance. There is no menu, but if you tell them your budget they will source the best seafood of the day for you.
Non-seafood dishes such as noodles, local style snacks and milk teas are also available. Make sure to end your seafood feast with the famous French toast with condensed milk, a favourite dessert amongst fishermen.
Seated on one of the large round tables, beside a group of fishermen in their waterboots, we tuck into sweet-and-sour fish, fried abalone with garlic and chili and steamed shrimps. The atmosphere is unpretentious, leaving the sole focus on what’s really important: the food. And it is delicious.
The history of Aberdeen Fish Market
Most people working in the market grew up in fishing families and have inherited the family business. Amongst them is Mr. Lee, Chairman of the Hong Kong Chamber of Seafood Merchants Ltd. Lee has been working in the market for 45 years. His family were seafood merchandisers: they bought shrimps from larger fishing boats and transported them to the market for sale.
Lee spent 11 years living on the boat until he attended a boarding school in Aberdeen. He recalls his childhood days on the water with fondness. “The whole family lived and worked on the boat”, he says. “When I got off school, I would hop onboard, take off my uniform and jump straight into the sea with my friends. Our favourite game was throwing coca cola lids into the water. The one who dived in and picked up the most lids would win. We spent most summer afternoons in the water, especially when the temperature hit 30 degrees and the heat was unbearable.”
However, life on the boats was never easy and often dangerous. “We ate and slept on the floor, there were no beds, electricity or fresh water”, adds Lee. “Sometimes, a fishing trip would take days and we could not go to school. Also, you won’t see this now, but during typhoons, children were tied to the boats with ropes to prevent them from being swept overboard. It may seem inhumane, but many families had several children and it was difficult for parents to watch each and every child. Although we were tied to the boat we could still move around. I am grateful to the ropes that saved my life. I had friends who fell overboard and drowned in the roaring waves while their parents were busy catching fish”.
During extreme weather conditions, the ropes – intended to save lives – occasionally led to tragic consequences as children were strangled. “It was a desperate method to keep children safe from the merciless seas”, says Lee.
Despite its interesting history, the area is not as much of a tourist spot as other famous fish markets around Asia. Some people prefer it this way. “Though I am open to the idea of promoting the fisheries industry in Hong Kong, there isn’t enough space for tourists here”, remarks Lee. “Around 200 trucks go back and forth from the market every day. This harbour is a thriving and busy one.”
Who’s at Aberdeen Fish Market?
Mr. Lee, Chairman of the Hong Kong Chamber of Seafood Merchants Ltd.
“In the past, many families gave birth to around ten children, to ensure an heir to the family fishing business. But now, no young people are willing to enter the fishing industry because of the hard work. It’s getting much harder to hire fishermen and workers.
Back in 1995, we fought hard for the Mainland Fishermen Deckhand scheme, in which mainland fishermen can enter Hong Kong to unload the day’s catch at fish markets. Every boat can take up to eight mainland workers, which helps to alleviate the manpower problem in the industry. I have 14 workers on my boats. They are great helping hands. I hope the Government will do more to encourage young people to enter the fishing industry.”
Mr. Lam, driver
“I was a fisherman for over 20 years – it’s a tradition that goes back a few generations in my family. We stopped fishing because the petrol became too expensive and the trips took too long.
Sometimes, a fishing trip to Hainan would take up to 80 hours. There was no electricity on my boat and life could be difficult, especially in the heat of summer.
Now, I deliver live seafood to wet markets on Hong Kong Island in my truck. I miss fishing but I prefer my job as a driver more. I wake up at 4am and work until 2pm. The trucks are a lot more advanced now, with all those air pumps – we didn’t have them in the past!”
MR. Lau, seafood stall owner
“Every morning between 5am and 8am, I buy frozen and wild seafood from the South China Sea at Aberdeen Fish Market. Then I work in my wet market seafood stall in Kowloon until 7:30pm. My job is difficult, but enjoyable.
During the two-and-a-half-month fishing moratorium from May to August, there is a reduced choice of fish. But the price doesn’t go up because the fishermen keep wild fish in cages in Aberdeen and sell it when there is insufficient supply.”
Miss Lee, Treasurer
“I work from 5am until 1pm every day. I record the amount of seafood bought and sold in our stall. The price varies every day, depending on the supply. You can check out the huge lobsters, they are fresh and cost only around $1,600 each!
There are very few women here because of the nature of the work: it is hard physical labour. I like Aberdeen Fish Market a lot because of the variety of seafood. Name a seafood and you can find it here!”
Mr. Chan, mainland fisherman
“I started working in Hong Kong six months ago. I come from a fisherman’s family in China so I have adapted to the lifestyle easily. I live on the boat with 13 other fishermen – we share a dorm together. After work, we usually chit-chat and cook on the boat. Many other fishermen gamble but I don’t.
There are better prospects working here and I get a higher salary too. I am lucky to have a good boss – we each get one month paid leave after serving on the boat for a year.”
– 102 Shek Pai Wan Road, Aberdeen.
– Call 2177 7872 to make an appointment (you may need the help of a Cantonese-speaking friend).
– Opens daily from 4am to 4pm, only accepts cash.
How to get there
– Take Bus 70 from Central, Bus 72 from Causeway Bay or Bus 73 from Cyberport or Stanley.
– A taxi from Central MTR costs around $70.
– South Island MTR line is scheduled to open in late 2016.