Preserving marine lobster population


An officer from the Johor Fisheries Department (right) showing how to measure the length of a lobster carapace to a group of fishermen in Kota Tinggi.

AS part of its efforts to create a sustainable food source for the country, the Johor Fisheries Department has launched an awareness campaign dubbed the “lobster refugia initiative.”

Sultan Iskandar Marine Park Resource Management and Protection chief Nur Afifah A. Rahman said the project was in line with the Fisheries Refugia in the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand project under the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (Seafdec).

It is also supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“These international collaborations started back in 2018 through the Fisheries Department and aim to strengthen marine life management and make sure it is much more systematic.

“In the context of Johor, we will conduct a dialogue with the local farmers on how we can preserve our marine ecosystem by controlling overfishing and destructive fishing practices,” she said when contacted.

Fisheries refugia management is an additional system to the current marine protected area (MPA), which is a section of the ocean where the government has placed limits on human activity.

“The refugia system is not an MPA, it is more on the protection steps that we can make to ensure our resources and food stock are sustainable.

“For the lobster refugia initiative, the main threat to the lobster marine population is overfishing,” she said, adding that this was due to the high consumer demand.

The lobster refugia initiative is important, as currently there is no programme dedicated to preserving or increasing the population of lobster in Johor waters.

“Lobster is part of the crustacean seafood that has an outer shell, such as crab and prawns.

“Generally, it can be found on the sand floor or on the reefs between five and 100 metres of ocean depth,” she said, adding that lobster was also a nocturnal animal.

Under the refugia initiative, Nur Afifah said the department had planned various engagement and promotion programmes not only for the fishermen but also for the local fishing community and the public.

“Through close cooperation and surveillance, we can ensure that lobsters are still able to be caught and commercialised under control.

“Based on the feedback that we have received so far, there have been reports from the fishing community on the decline of the lobster population in Johor.

“They are hoping that the department could help intervene and create a breeding programme so that these species would be able to survive in the Johor waters,” she said, adding that the community had also given their promise to support the refugia and conservation efforts.

Nur Afifah added that the department called for temporary ban on catching lobsters, scientifically known as panulirus polyphagus, between July and September every year.

“This is because it is the mating season for these lobsters during this period,” she said, adding that the fishermen should also avoid catching lobsters with eggs and having carapace length less than 6cm.

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