PETALING JAYA: Conservation groups are calling for all species of sharks to be protected, saying that these animals are worth more alive than dead to Sabah’s estimated over RM200mil diving industry.
Sabah Shark Protection Association chairman Aderick Chong said all species of sharks should be listed for protection under federal or at least state laws.
This, he said, would make it easier to enforce, adding that the government could later take off some common sharks from the list of protection.
“We welcome the news that the federal protection for the four shark and two ray species is in progress.
“We can only say we look forward to the protection of these species and thank the government for their initiative.
“To further add to their protection, we urge the state to protect all sharks to make it easier to enforce later.
“We will also welcome a ban against shark fin trade or soup,” said Chong.
He said it was his hope to make Sabah a dive haven with sharks – and not only along the state’s east coast where Sipadan and Pulau Mabul are located.
“This will undoubtedly attract more divers to the state. But to do that, the first step is that we need to treat sharks as wildlife and not food, ” said Chong.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), quoting a 2015 research, Malaysia ranked as the world’s ninth largest producer of shark products and third largest importer in volume.
Located along the east coast of Sabah, Semporna is a hotbed for both tourism and the fishing of sharks.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia tourism research head Prof Amran Hamzah said targeted or intended fishing of sharks and rays by local fishermen in Semporna had ceased as a result of the government’s directive and outreach.
Sharks and rays, which were still part of the diet of traditional communities around there, were landed as bycatch by fishermen targeting other seafood, said Prof Amran.
These were among the findings carried out by his team earlier last year in Pulau Mabul.
“This unintentional bycatch is sold openly at fish markets.
“However, the small number of traders involved were known to the authorities,” said Prof Amran when presenting the study at the Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum in Kota Kinabalu in June last year.
The state Fisheries Department, he said, had a novel approach in isolating and containing known dealers.
The research also noted that Bajau Laut (sea gypsies) traditionally dried shark meat and turned them into salted fish for their own consumption.
Rays are also part of the Suluk community’s diet in a dish called tiyula itum (black soup).
At the same forum, the Australian Institute of Marine Science had said sharks were worth more alive than dead as they contributed some RM220mil to Sabah’s economy.
The revenue from all diving activities reached about US$55.3mil (RM221.85mil) a year for Sabah.