KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 — Malaysia loses up to RM6 billion due to illegal fishing every year, said Director of Landing and Licensing Division in the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DoF), Wan Muhammad Aznan Abdullah.

He said despite tough enforcement measures in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, the issue on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing remains rampant since the return on investment is lucrative and also because the vast area makes policing extremely difficult without cooperation from Asean members.

“Researchers from the South-east Asian Fisheries Development Centre (SEAFDEC) have found that fish supplies in the country are at a critical level and immediate action needs to be taken to prevent the smuggling of Malaysian fish products out of the country,” he said to Bernama here yesterday.

Despite that, Wan Muhammad Aznan said the DoF had been working with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM), marine police and Royal Malaysian Navy (TLDM) to reduce illegal fishing in Malaysian waters.

He said this during the Terminal Meeting of The Japan Trust Fund 6 (JTF6) Project: Combating IUU Fishing in South-east Asia through the application of catch certification for international trade in fish and fishery products held on September 3-5 here.

According to the DoF, while approximately 980,000 tonnes of the country’s seafood worth between RM3 billion and RM6 billion was lost each year as a result of illegal fishing activities, only 50 per cent of fish caught from national waters makes its way to the local market and the rest are untraceable.

As a result of these losses, the Fisheries Act 1985 was amended in July this year with the aim, among others, of increasing the general penalty for offences.

The Fisheries Act increases the maximum penalty for an owner or captain of a foreign vessel caught trespassing into Malaysian waters from RM1 million to RM6 million, and the penalty for every crew member from RM100,000 to RM600,000.

Meanwhile in a statement, DoF said up to 26 million tonnes of fish is caught illegally each year globally, and this is conservatively estimated to be between 10 and 20 per cent of the global catch.

When met, SEAFDEC director Raja Bidin Raja Hassan said he was hoping that the three-day meeting with 11 Asean representatives could provide positive developments towards improving the guidelines against illegal fishing agreed upon since 2015.

“If there are shortcomings or loopholes, we will try to address these in view of the fact that guidelines need to be reviewed every five years. Any new suggestion will be taken into consideration and this will be the way forward for the second phase of the JTF6, with the focus on feasibility next year,” he said. — Bernama