Protected shark species for sale in a restaurant? Conservationists call for a probe

The zebra shark and Napoleon wrasse - also an IUCN Red List Endangered species - sit in adjacent tanks.

KOTA KINABALU: Conservationists in Sabah are calling for an investigation and action to be taken against the alleged sales of protected shark species in a seafood restaurant in the city.

Dr Nick Pilcher, founder and executive director of the Marine Research Foundation claimed sharks were being kept in tanks for the purpose of consumption, including a Zebra shark (Stegosoma tigrinum) and Napoleon wrasse.

He said the Zebra shark, also known as the Leopard shark, was a very rare species and should be protected by law in accordance to its "endangered" status.

The shark is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of species at risk of extinction with the numbers dwindling worldwide.

“It is disheartening to see this rare species of shark being kept in a restaurant. We can only presume it is there to be sold as food, which is shocking,” Dr Pilcher said.

Despite it being a rare and mainly nocturnal, zebra sharks occasionally can be seen on the reefs around Sabah and are cited as being particularly graceful when swimming as their long tail moves like a ribbon through the water.

“It is incredible that this species of shark can still be seen in Sabah, yet sad that one is being kept in this manner,” he said, adding that a probe should be conducted.

“A juvenile Napoleon wrasse is being kept in the tank with the shark, with an adult female Napoleon wrasse in another tank.

“These species are also listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, and are only regularly sighted in protected areas such as Pulau Sipadan,” he added.

Dr Pilcher pointed out that although listed as endangered by IUCN, neither species is protected by law in Sabah outside of Sabah Parks gazetted areas.

He said the issue was being taken up by a group of NGOs as part of the Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative, including LEAP Spiral, Forever Sabah, WWF-Malaysia, Marine Research Foundation, Scuba Junkie SEAS and the Sabah Shark Protection Association.

"It is high time for the authorities to consider adding more species to the protected list," he said.

Conservation manager at Scuba Junkie SEAS David McCann said due to the loophole, these species were not protected outside the confines of the marine parks.

“But for now, we hope that appropriate action will be taken by the authorities to look into the welfare of the shark and wrasse.

“The spectacle in the restaurant is not one we would like to see representing Sabah on a global social media platform,” he added.

State Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said he would call for an investigation to be carried out.

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