KOTA KINABALU: To ensure the preservation of sharks and stingrays in Sabah, the State Fisheries Department has suggested that four species of sharks and two species of rays be included in Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999, Fisheries Act 1985.
The species of hammerhead sharks are Sphyrna mokarran (great hammerhead shark), Sphyrna zygaena (smooth hammerhead shark), Eusphyra blochii (winghead shark) and the Carcharhinus longimanus (oceanic whitetip shark) while the rays are the Manta birostris (oceanic manta) and Manta alfredi (reef manta).
This was decided during a briefing and forum with stakeholders in Sandakan recently. It was conducted by Dr. Hj. Ahmad Bin Ali, Senior Research Officer and shark and ray expert of Malaysia, Department of Fisheries Malaysia, and Lawrence Kissol, Assistant Director (Marine Resource Management), Department of Fisheries Sabah.
State Fisheries Department director Dr Ahemad Sade in his speech at the opening of the event said similar programs had been conducted in Perak, Sarawak and Selangor.
In the speech which was delivered by the Department of Fisheries Senior Assistant Director Saili Libi, Dr Ahemad disclosed that there were 48 shark species and 65 ray species in Sabah compared to 70 shark species and 85 ray species in the whole of Malaysia.
According to Dr Ahemad, a total of 564 metric tons of sharks were landed in Sabah in 2016 and this was 0.3 per cent from the 162,055 metric tons landed throughout the country.
During the same period of time, 1,331 metric tons of rays were landed in Sabah and this represented only 0.8 per cent of the total for the whole country, he said.
All the sharks and rays landed are by-catch of fishing boats where 49 per cent are by-catch of trawlers. Other than that, the sharks and rays are also caught using other methods such as ‘rawai’ (long liner), fishing lines, pukat tangsi (gill net) and fish traps, he disclosed.
Dr Ahemad also touched on the allegations by certain quarters of uncontrolled shark fining activities and shark fishing in Sabah and that the state government was not doing anything or had failed to carry out the necessary enforcement.
“There have been various perceptions and allegations with regard to the issue of shark hunting in Sabah. These are wrong allegations and perceptions and the state Fisheries Department as well as the Malaysia Fisheries Department would like to clarify and disclose what is actually happening.
“Shark fining refers to the act of just taking the fins of sharks and the rest of the fish discarded back to sea, sometimes while it is still alive. This cruel act does not happen in our country because the whole fish is used either as food or processed into other products.
“Its teeth are use for making souvenirs while its bones are used for medical purposes,” he said and reiterated that sharks and rays were not the main target of fishermen but are the by-catch.
He also stressed that the government had never issued any licence for equipment to be used specifically for catching sharks or to encourage the industry based on shark fishing.
“Therefore there are no shark fishing activities in Malaysia and the allegation that the government is not committed in the management of sharks and rays is baseless,” he said.
According to Dr Ahemad out of the 155 species of sharks and rays in Malaysia, only one shark species which is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and all rays from the ‘Pristidae’ family or saw fish are categorized ‘threatened species’ under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999, Fisheries Act 1985.
It is prohibited to exploit these species and they are not allowed to be caught, sold, exported, consumed or even kept as ornamental fish, he said.
Dr Ahemad also explained that 11 species of sharks and rays are listed in the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Malaysia Act and international trade of these species must adhere to the export quota.
The government however has decided that none of the 11 species of sharks and rays listed under CITES are allowed to be exported for the time being, he said adding that the government is and will continue with the implementation of programs under the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-Shark 2).
“Public awareness campaigns, socio-economy, marketing and trade studies, data collection on the landing of sharks and rays and a consultative program like the one today are all part of the NPOA-Shark 2 programs.
“At the regional level, Malaysia is an active member of the various initiatives on sharks and rays management under the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) Goal 5 : Threatened species status improving, Asean Working Group on CITES and Wildlife Enforcement (AWG CITES & WE) dan Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre (Seafdec),” he said.
Dr Ahemad added that the government’s efforts to include several sharks and rays species under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999, Fisheries Act 1985 reflected its commitment towards managing the resource the best way it can.
With the inclusion of the four sharks and two ray species into the Act, more species will be given specific focus especially in terms of protection, he said.
The briefing and forum was attended by about 100 people representing government departments and agencies, fishermen associations, NGOs and fishermen.