Go all out against illegal foreign fishing boats, says Sabah minister

KOTA KINABALU: The state government wants the relevant authorities to go all out and catch illegal foreign fishing vessels operating in Sabah waters, and even legal boats using unlicensed methods.

State Agriculture and Food Industries minister Junz Wong said he had received numerous complaints from local fishing communities that they were seeing more fishing vessels from Vietnam operating in Kuala Penyu (some 100km south-west of Kota Kinabalu).

He said even licensed foreign vessels were believed to be using (more destructive) fishing methods apart from those stated in their documents.

“We need the marine and other relevant enforcement authorities to look into these claims and go all out to nab offenders and guard our shoreline which measures over 1, 359km,” he said in a statement here Thursday (Aug 23).

Wong said such encroachment and unauthorised fishing methods (such as using trawlers when their documents only allow for netting) were affecting not only the marine ecosystem, but also the livelihood of local fishermen.

“We hope maritime enforcers can move their machinery and vessels towards areas that are encroached into to prevent offenders from continuing their activities,” he said.

Wong said according to fisheries records, Sabah allowed only 51 deep-sea vessels (operated by 11 local companies) to fish.

He said of those 51 vessels, 18 were locally-made while 33 were made in Vietnam, but operated by locals here.

Only 11 of these vessels were allowed to do fish trawling (pukat tunda), while the others could only use nets or lines - seven vessels are to use in seine fishing (pukat jerut) while 33 use longline fishing (rawai), he stressed.

“From 2015, foreign-made vessels such as those from Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, China and Brunei were no longer allowed to operate in Sabah waters but those which have been used before 2015 are still allowed,” he said.

Wong said deep-sea vessels were only allowed to operate in two zones of Sabah – west coast areas and Tawau. Moreover, they could only operate 30 nautical miles from shore.

However, he said he still received complaints from local fishermen claiming that vessels that were supposed to use only longlines were using trawling nets instead to catch fish. (Trawling catches more fish but it can also result in over-fishing and destruction of corals that act as habitat for marine life.)

“I hope the security forces will look into this as well,” he said, adding that local communities should be the eyes and ears of enforcement teams.

Meanwhile, Wong commended the close relations and cooperation between the Sabah Fisheries Department and marine police in their effort to curb illegal activities at sea.

He said the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) had seized five Vietnamese fishing vessels and crews from Sabah waters so far this year.

“Some of them have been charged and sentenced in court for their offences,” he added.

Wong said seized vessels would be destroyed and sunk once court cases were complete.

He said sunk vessels would become artificial reefs and allow for reproduction of marine life.