Researcher ropes in fishermen to help conserve sharks

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 15 Feb 2020

Team effort: Ho is working with local fishermen to conserve sharks and rays in Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: A researcher is seeking to make inroads into shark and ray conservation in Sabah with the help of local fishermen.

Ho Kooi Chee, who works for the Marine Research Foundation, is trying out a remote electronic monitoring system on fishing boats that will lead to better shark and ray data collection in Sabah.

Although Sabah is well known for shark and ray sightings, including rare species such as manta rays, scalloped hammerheads and whale sharks, there are knowledge gaps about their population sizes and distribution.

There is also scarce data from outside of marine parks, she added.

According to Ho, most of the data collected about sharks and rays comes from fish market surveys.

Recent surveys by Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) showed near-daily instances of shark and ray landings at major fish markets around Sabah, she said.

However, this data does not provide enough information for decision-making, as very little is known about the location and timing of the fishing interactions (where and when the sharks and rays are caught), the fishing gears involved (how they are caught), as well as information about the type of sharks and rays that are caught and possibly not landed in major markets.

Ho’s project will fill in some of these information gaps through the innovative use of solar-powered GPS-linked camera systems on fishing vessels to record any catch that is first brought on board.

“For the fishermen we work with – those on small-scale and industrial-scale fishing trawlers – sharks and rays are not the target catch. They are ‘bycatch’, hauled on board with the fishermen’s primary catch,” she said.

“The GPS-linked cameras will record the location and timing of captures of the different sharks and rays, along with the rest of the catch.

“The images of the landings are recorded as they are brought on deck, enabling identification to species level.

“The cameras – being GPS-linked – can thus provide accurate location and time-stamp data for each capture. This means that we will know exactly when and where each species is being caught,” said Ho, who is from Kuala Lumpur.

The information would provide a clearer picture of shark and ray diversity and habitat use in Sabah’s waters.

As an example, many pregnant females are documented from fish markets around the state but there is minimal information on shark and ray pupping grounds and nursery grounds.

“Not only will this provide more information about sharks and rays captured in Sabah’s waters, it could also potentially aid conservation efforts for some species,” she added.

“Knowing the location and time for the capture of each species may enable us to provide solutions for shark and ray conservation in view of the importance of these species to the greater marine ecosystem,” she said.

With appropriate conservation interventions, she said Sabah waters could become a safe haven for many species whose numbers have been decimated worldwide.

This could make Sabah a model for shark conservation, as well as ensuring healthy seas and food security for years to come, she added.

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research , shark , ray , conservation , Sabah


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