The government, they said, should create a situation that makes these marine species more valuable to remote coastal communities alive, rather than dead.
In a joint statement, the group which started the Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative said education and awareness over the importance of sharks in the marine ecosystems was needed to ensure shark populations were protected against unsustainable fishing.
Scuba Junkie SEAS conservation manager David McCann said a recent study estimated that over its lifetime, a single shark brought in US$815,000 (RM3.3mil) in tourism receipts to the Semporna region – compared to a one-off US$100 (RM416) for its fins.
“The challenge for us if we want to protect sharks and rays is to give fishing communities a share of the money generated through sustainable approaches.
“We need to develop innovative ways that allow remote communities to continue to support their families using means that don’t involve the exploitation of sharks and rays,” he said in a statement.
Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) chairman Aderick Chong emphasised the need for a perception shift towards marine life.“We need to move from fear and over-exploitation of these species, to respect and recognise their value beyond a bowl of soup,” he said.
The group also welcomed the outcome of a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in August in Geneva in which 102 countries voted in favour of adding 18 species of sharks and rays to its Appendix II.
This means the international trade of the species will be subject to regulation, offering better protection against over-exploitation.
Such developments would give Malaysia a good opportunity to consider developing effective ways to reduce mortality of CITES-listed species in its fisheries, rather than just regulating exports, they said.
To support the government’s ongoing work on sharks and rays, the conservationists from various NGOs said they were keen to work on a variety of programmes.
This include mitigating shark capture in the industry, where WWF-Malaysia is trying to increase the effectiveness of conserving shark species in the Tun Mustapha Marine Park in Kudat by piloting a bycatch mitigation project with small-scale fishermen.
Marine Research Foundation (MRF) noted that the lack of data gathered in the industry had hampered efforts to mitigate against bycatch.“For now, we have little knowledge of where and when sharks and rays are taken in commercial fisheries.“We aim to address that and give Sabah Fisheries Department this information, so that management decisions are informed by the best scientific knowledge,” said MRF executive director Dr Nick Pilcher.
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