KOTA KINABALU, Oct 7 — Marine conservationists here have refuted Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s claim that the country does not have a shark finning industry and referred the federal minister to a United Nation’s (UN) study that ranked Malaysia among the world’s top ten producers.
Sabah Sharks Protection Association (SSPA) pointed out the detailed study from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report named Malaysia as the world’s ninth-largest shark producer and third-largest importer in volume terms.
“The report clearly indicates that Malaysia is a major shark producer with a large consumer market for shark fins, posting large import volumes of low-valued shark fins. The demand for shark fin and meat leads to the high volumes of sharks being caught in the country,” said the coalition group.
“We are calling on Malaysia to take serious action to manage its shark and ray population by implementing its international and local commitment,” it said in a statement, adding that Malaysia, under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, protects sharks for trade, but it does not address the issue of shark finning and hunting.
On Monday, Ahmad Shabery, who is agriculture and agro-based industry minister said that there was no need to amend the current Fisheries Act and impose a ban on shark hunting and finning activities despite reports of dwindling shark population and rampant illegal fishing in the state.
But SSPA said, however, that according to international reports, between 2000 and 2011, Malaysia recorded average annual shark fin imports of 1,172 tonnes, worth US$3.2 million (approximately RM14 million) and average annual shark fin exports of 238 tonnes, worth US$902,000 (approximately RM3.9 million).
“There are currently no catch quotas for catching sharks and rays in Malaysian waters, and government statistics show a declining trend in annual catches since a high in 2003, indicating shark populations may be in decline.
“Sharks are one of many groups of fishes targeted by multi-species fisheries, which include the use of trawling and gill nets, and require specific management measures if they are to be sustainable.
“The fins of sharks caught in Malaysian waters are typically removed at the landing site, demonstrating that the sale of the fins is part of the income of fishers who catch them,” said the group.
The association urged Ahmad Shabery not only to discuss the proposal to set up a shark protection area, but to strengthening shark protection under relevant conservation and fisheries laws in Malaysia.
They reminded the minister that Malaysia was a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993, and the prime minister had declared the country’s commitment to protect biodiversity in Malaysia as part of the Coral Triangle region during the Leaders Summit of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) in May 2009.
“However, this commitment falls far short when it comes to sharks,” they said.
SSPA is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).
Meanwhile, International conservation organisation Shark Savers Asia Pacific regional director Jonn Lu said that the minister’s statement came as a surprise because Malaysia was widely known to be a major source, trade and consumption country for shark fins.
He said that it was immaterial if the sharks were targeted or were accidental by-catches, as facts remain that 80 per cent of Sabah’s shark population has been wiped out, mirroring similar global trends of population depletion due to unsustainable demand for shark fin and meat.
“If the minister does not see compelling evidence of commercial shark finning activity in Malaysia, thus negating the need for a legislative response, perhaps he could consider a total shark catchment ban, because there is a plethora of evidence showing alarming local population depletion,” he said, adding that extinction of sharks in Malaysia will be an impending reality if not addressed.
Sabah is situated in the heart of the coral triangle, one of the richest and most biodiverse marine habitats in the world.
“It is in Malaysia’s national interest to protect and preserve these natural and economic assets, and it is the Minister’s duty to champion marine or shark conservation initiatives,” he said, adding that the local dive tourism industry has also brought in millions of divers, who pumped multiple of millions of dollars into local economies.