KOTA KINABALU: The abundant marine life in the seas around Sabah has not just earned the state a reputation as a seafood paradise but has also enticed the wrong crowd.
For years, foreign fishermen have “cloned” Malaysian fishing vessels by painting fake registration numbers on them and even flying the Jalur Gemilang to hide their presence in Malaysian waters.
To curb the problem, the state Fisheries Department has begun a Quick Response (QR) code that would be assigned to all Sabah registered deep sea fishing vessels.
It would take about a month to complete this exercise on the 51 Sabah-registered deep sea fishing vessels.
Department director Dr Ahemad Sade said the code would be part of a smart tag placed on all local vessels.
Using a special tag reader, enforcement personnel would be able to check details of the fishing boat as well as the location it was authorised to operate in.
“This will make it easier to detect any illegal fishermen,” he told reporters.
Dr Ahemad said the smart tag with QR code would complement tracking units that all local fishing boats were required to be equipped with.
He said it was not easy for the QR to be duplicated, so enforcement personnel would be able to verify information about the fishing boat they are checking.
Many of the 51 of the Sabah-registered deep sea fishing vessels are crewed by Filipino or Vietnamese nationals.
The crew and the fishing boat operators who break the law could face fines of up to RM1mil apart from having the vessels seized.
Former department director Datuk Rayner Stuel Galid had warned that Sabah’s fish stocks and marine biodiversity could be reduced beyond sustainability within four decades.
He said tough measures were needed to protect Sabah’s 1,700km coastline from illegal foreign fishermen and their damaging practices such as blast fishing.
These illegal fishermen were also involved in other damaging activities including using sodium cyanide to fish and illegal fishing nets, which scoured the seabed, trapping turtles and other marine creatures.
He said the illegal foreign fishermen, mainly from Vietnam and China, were drawn to Sabah’s waters where there were more than 1,200 species of fish.
Sabah’s waters contains 75% of the nation’s coral reefs.
The waters off the state is also home to 22 marine mammal species and five out of seven species of marine turtles.