KUALA LUMPUR: The shark fin trade has critically endangered the shark population in the country, a panel discussion on marine conservation at the Malaysia International Dive Expo 2017 (MIDE 2017) heard.
According to a 2016 WWF report, Malaysia is the world's ninth largest producer of shark products.
"Shark fins can fetch anything up to US$150 (RM650), but it is a one-time offer. You kill the shark, you sell the shark, you get the money, the shark is gone," said panel moderator marine biologist David McCann.
He also said an estimated 100 million sharks are caught worldwide every year and this has driven sharks close to extinction.
Marine Parks Department deputy director-general Haji Abdul Rahim Gor Yaman explained that in Malaysia, sharks are caught mostly as a by-catch of trawling.
"There is no shark fishing per se, there is no licence to do shark fishing. In Malaysia, it is mostly by-catch," Abdul Rahim said at the panel discussion themed "Voices on Ocean Rescue" at Putra World Trade Centre.
He added that fishermen, especially those in coastal communities, lack education about shark fishing and the endangered statuses of different sharks.
"It is a matter of making the fishermen aware about the by-catch of fishing by teaching them the statuses of sharks.
"Educate the fishermen ... They do not understand or realise the issue and want to continue their way of life," he said.
He explained that the sharks caught by trawling are sold by fishermen to sustain their livelihoods.
The panel agreed that there is a difference between local fishermen fishing for their livelihoods versus commercial trawlers.
According to Abdul Rahim, the Fisheries Department has a national plan of action that stipulates the size of fishing nets, a ban on hook and line fishing, and licensing for fishing.
However, Project Aware campaign manager Joanne Marston warned that in many countries with a similar plan of action, there are often loopholes in the policies that fishermen use to continue their illegal trade.
On the issue of shark tourism, Reef Check general manager Julian Hyde said that the biggest problem was that local fishermen are usually left out of the industry.
"The biggest problem is that local communities who are fishermen are not involved in local tourism, they are not gaining profit from the shark tourism market," he said.
As a solution, McCann recommended training for local communities to take control of tourism activities in their areas and empowering fishermen to protect the sharks in their backyards.
Shark tourism is estimated to bring in US$314mil (RM1.3bil) every year globally.
Within the next 20 years, that figure is estimated to rise to US$785mil (RM3.4bil) a year. In Asia, the industry currently brings in US$30.5mil (RM123mil).
Also on the panel were Tourism Malaysia ambassador Clement Lee, celebrity diver Sarimah Ibrahim, dive centre owner Simon Christopher, and Muhamad Riduan Abdul Rahim from the Malaysia Scuba Diving Association (MSDA).
The panel also discussed the dive industry's role in protecting the ocean.