KOTA KINABALU: There is a need for the new government to review existing laws on shark protection as they are an important capital, say top campaigners.
WWF-Malaysia marine policy manager Shantini Guna Rajan said the review could mean regulating sustainable exploitation or completely protecting a species.
“Most importantly, the Federal and Sabah governments must sit down together to discuss how to review the regulations,” said Shantini at the Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum 2018 on Thursday.
The forum saw local, regional and international top campaigners discussing legal advances in protecting these sea creatures plus research and raising of awareness efforts in Sabah.
The forum also revealed results of an updated study to assess the current economic value of the shark-diving industry in Semporna, following the 2012 Shark Tourism Economic Valuation Study that was led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims).
Semporna is the most important hotbed in Sabah for both tourism and fishing of sharks, and the east coast district has been a focal point for researchers and campaigners.
Semporna is a world-famous diving haven and revenue from diving activities reached about USD55.3mil (RM221.85mil) a year, said Dr Johanna Zimmerhackel of Aims.
Of this, shark diving made up USD16.6mil (RM66.6mil) and taxes collected from this amounted to USD3.6mil (RM14.44mil), she said.
“Protecting sharks and rays is the key message of the study.
“There are many different conservation strategies, and having a shark sanctuary is one of them,” said Dr Zimmerhackel.
She said while a study was needed to see whether a shark sanctuary would be the most feasible conservation strategy for Sabah, it could improve the diving experience of shark divers who are at risk of taking their tourism receipts elsewhere if the shark situation in Sabah continues to dwindle.
The forum also called for new methods of managing sharks that become by-catch by fishermen, noting that Semporna residents traditionally consumed shark meat.
A research concluded in March this year at Pulau Mabul by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) found that the Bajau Laut (sea gypsies) traditionally dried shark meat and turn them into salted fish for their own consumption.
Meanwhile, UTM tourism research head Prof Amran Hamzah said rays had been traditionally part of the Suluk community’s diet, which uses its meat in a dish called tiyula itum (black soup).
“The general reaction from the locals is denial, general apathy, or saying that it did not involve protected species,” said Prof Amran.
He said calls to action included interventions to elevate the role of responsible tourism as an alternative source of income and educating local communities on the importance of shark and rays conservation.
Youth NGO Green Semporna co-founder Adzmin Fatta said towards this end, it was crucial to empower the youth to change the culture in their communities.
“This does not mean banning eating shark meat entirely but there needs to be a balance between conservation, livelihood and culture.
“Green Semporna has been doing awareness-raising work and shark education projects in Semporna.
“We have appointed 32 young shark ambassadors from secondary schools there to promote shark conservation among their peers and communities,” said Adzmin.
The forum, which ended yesterday in Kota Kinabalu, carried the theme “Exploring Synergies between Fisheries, Conservation and Tourism”, and was jointly organised by Land Empowerment Animals People (Leap), WWF-Malaysia and Sabah Sharks Protection Association (SSPA).
It is supported by the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Sabah Fisheries Department and Kota Kinabalu City Hall.
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