KUALA LUMPUR: Seven new types of sharks and rays will be included in the endangered species list of the Fisheries Act but the rest of Malaysia’s 67 shark species are still free to be caught and consumed.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek also announced that Sabah was free to totally ban shark hunting if the state government so wished.
This comes amid mounting pressure from international and Malaysian conservationists and even from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Sabah government to amend the Fisheries Act to totally ban shark hunting.
In an interview yesterday, Ahmad Shabery said Sabah would have to revise its own laws to ban shark hunting but federal regulations on sharks would remain the same.
He also explained that out of the 67 shark species, of which 48 could be found in Sabah waters, only two were considered endangered - the whale shark and the sawfish.
The ministry plans to gazette the oceanic white tip shark, four hammerhead shark species, the giant oceanic manta ray and the reef manta ray as endangered species, too.
“Not all sharks are endangered. They try to generalise sharks but there are 67 types. These are common species that you can see in the market every day, so you cannot generalise sharks as a whole.
“I agree that endangered species have to be protected. If Sabah wants a total ban on shark hunting, they have the right to do so. There is no problem with us. We don’t get the profit, only Sabah,” he said.
Sabah’s Fisheries Department exists separately from the Federal Government’s jurisdiction, he said, making it possible for the state to enact its own laws on shark hunting.
“But to have a blanket ban on all sharks under the Fisheries Act, that is not possible.
“ It’s not to say I don’t love sharks. Because if you want to do total banning, it has to fit international standards,” he said, explaining that total protection on an apex predator could lead to an ecological imbalance in marine life.
Ahmad Shabery disagreed with shark conservationists who claimed that 80% of Malaysia’s shark population had depleted since 1989, saying that studies were being done to sustainably manage the population – though no results can be announced yet.
According to ministry statistics, shark products make up 0.1% of Malaysia’s total fisheries output with 1,466 metric tonnes to the 1.45 million metric tonnes of seafood caught from 2008 to 2014.
According to wildlife conservation group TRAFFIC, Malaysia ranked 10 in the world for shark hunting, behind countries Indonesia, India, Mexico, Taiwan, the United States and Japan.
On Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar’s proposal to have sharks protected under a planned Protected Marine Animals Act, Ahmad Shabery said discussions were ongoing.
“I don’t want people to think there is a clash between two ministries. That is not the way we work. We will iron out between us,” he said.