Shark protection in Sabah necessary: SSPA

KOTA KINABALU: Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek in a recent article on an online portal mentioned that the ban on shark hunting in Sabah was deemed unnecessary.

Shabery mentioned that sharks, unlike tuna, are accidentally caught by fishermen in Malaysian waters, indicating that shark hunting and the finning industry did not exist in Malaysia.

Malaysia is ranked as the world’s ninth-largest shark producer and third-largest importer in volume terms, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s report entitled State of the global market for shark products. From 2000 to 2011, Malaysia recorded average annual shark fin imports of 1 172 tonnes, worth USD3.2 million (approximately RM14 million) and average annual shark fin exports 238 tonnes, worth USD902 000 (approximately RM3.9 million).

The report clearly indicates that Malaysia is a major shark producer with a large consumer market for shark fins, posting large import volumes of low-valued shark fins. The demand for shark fin and meat leads to the high volumes of sharks being caught in the country.

Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) urgently calls for Malaysia to take serious action to manage its shark and ray population by implementing its international and local commitment.

There are currently no catch quotas for catching sharks and rays in Malaysian waters, and government statistics show a declining trend in annual catches since a high in 2003, indicating shark populations may be in decline. Sharks are one of many groups of fishes targeted by multi-species fisheries, which include the use of trawling and gill nets, and require specific management measures if they are to be sustainable. The fins of sharks caught in Malaysia waters are typically removed at the landing site, demonstrating that the sale of the fins is part of the income of fishers who catch them.

It is commendable that Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DoFM) has revised its National Plan of Action (NPOA) in 2014, which recognised the importance of managing our shark population, and has put in place measures to strengthen protection of shark in Malaysia.

The current NPOA, under Action 5 IV, calls for amendment of existing regulation or impose conditions on fishing licence to combat the issue of absence in finning regulations under the current legal framework. Putting this action in place will provide stronger protection for sharks in Malaysia, and particularly in Sabah.

Requiring sharks to be brought to shore with their fins attached will not necessarily reduce the amount of sharks killed, but it will ensure that the whole sharks are landed, making it far more straightforward for authorities to monitor shark catches to a species level.

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation because they are slow-growing, mature at a late age, and have relatively low productivity. Therefore, their populations are slow to recover once overfished. This is a major concern as many species of sharks are top predators and play an important role in balancing the marine ecosystems.

Tracking back into the history of Malaysia’s commitment in the conservation of the country’s biodiversity, besides being a signatory to the CITES agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak declared the country’s commitment to protect biodiversity in Malaysia as part of the Coral Triangle region during the Leaders Summit of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) in May 2009.

However, this commitment falls far short when it comes to sharks.

Malaysia, under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, protects sharks for trade, but it does not address the issue of shark finning and hunting.

Overfishing, destructive fishing methods (like fish bombing), pollution and unsustainable coastal development have led to significant declines in coral reefs, and negatively impacted the species reliant on these habitats, which are integral to the survival and health of the marine ecosystem.

Shabery also mentioned that his ministry was open to discuss the shark finning ban with the Sabah Government at any time – SSPA urges that the need is not only on discussing the proposal to set up a shark protection area, but the urgency of strengthening shark protection under relevant conservation and fisheries laws in Malaysia.

The shark protected area refers to the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPA); areas designated and effectively managed to protect marine ecosystems, processes habitats and species, which can contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic and cultural enrichment.

Effective implementation of MPA networks requires commitment from the government, multilateral agencies, civil society, communities and businesses.

Cover photo credit: Scubazoo

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