All Hands on Deck at the Aberdeen Fish Market

By Melanie Woods

Hong Kong

It’s our second day in the field. It starts with boarding a tiny 20-seater public bus at 7 a.m. As we ride towards the Aberdeen Fish Market on Hong Kong Island’s southern shore, I wonder if scheduling this meeting was a mistake. I wonder if we’ll get the scrubbed-clean tourist experience.

A few hours later, I’m standing over a vat of fish heads with my shoes steadily filling with water. I watch as six men try to wrangle a 100-pound grouper that escaped.

We are at the market today because we want to connect the supply chain — in a project where we’re looking at the global seafood supply chain, we still needed the place where the fish moves from the fisher to the consumer. Over a third of Hong Kong’s seafood passes through the Aberdeen Fish Market, where wholesalers who buy fish at sea come to sell to grocers, restaurants and other seafood distributors.

Our team on this day is large — five students from UBC, four from Nanjing University in China and professor Dan McKinney — and we’re all armed with video cameras, sound recorders, and other cameras. After meeting us at the entrance around 8 a.m. we walk to where wholesale boats bring fish into the harbour and unload into big styrofoam bins and plastic tubs.

We wander the market for four hours meeting people, watching wholesalers, fish processors and consumers buy and sell. We watch a pack of dogs frolick around the docks, jumping from boat to boat and tossing around stray fish. We see fish sellers lines the dock smiling at us between puffs of their cigarettes.

There’s a moment where I step back during a Cantonese interview and see all hands on deck — Dan is shooting, Ryan is gathering sound, Loha and Yuxian are helping translate, Caroline and Annie are shooting still photos, Dandan and Shumin are around the corner shooting a time lapse video and Oscar is off shooting on his phone. My job is to producer today to ensure we get all of the material we need.

In this moment I grasp the scale of something like the Global Reporting Program — here are students from around the world working together to produce journalism. We all bring unique skills in tech, language, interviewing, and editing. For the two weeks we’ll be in the field together, we are bringing those skills together to tell stories.