Kota Kinabalu: A scientific collaboration between the Fisheries Department and Forever Sabah has resulted in the completion of a freshwater fish inventory and compilation of a species master list of 166 valid species in Sabah comprising 150 native species and 16 introduced species.
Native species comprised 10 orders, 27 families and 75 genera while introduced species were from four orders, seven families and 14 genera.
A total of 36 species (24 per cent of native species) were found to be endemic and with 15 species, "ikan rokot" (Gastromyzon spp.) are the most diverse genus.
The researchers also found that 103 species (68.6 per cent of native species) were yet to be assessed for the IUCN Red List and 11 species (7.3 per cent) were identified as Data Deficient by IUCN.
This is a cause for concern because without IUCN assessment, most endangered species may not receive the adequate attention for conservation support.
The paper titled "A working checklist of the freshwater fish diversity for habitat management and conservation work in Sabah, Malaysia, North Borneo" was recently published in scientific journal Biodiversitas.
The key objective of the list is to set the foundation for driving freshwater habitat and species conservation work.
This is in line with the Third Sabah Agricultural Policy (2017-2027), Strategic Plan of the Fisheries Department (2016-2020), National Agro-food Policy (2011-2020), Heart of Borneo Initiative, Sabah Biodiversity Strategy 2012-2022 and the National Biodiversity Policy and Plan 2016-2025.
The study took one year to complete as comprehensive field study and review of scientific papers as early as 1962 had to be conducted.
Although the "ikan pelian" in Sabah, "ikan empurau" in Sarawak and "ikan kelah" in Peninsular Malaysia were treated as different taxonomical species, the researchers of the study decided to itemise them as one species, the Tor tambra, for the time being until more genetic studies can be carried out. This is to minimise confusion until scientific proof is obtained.
Fisheries Director Dr Ahemad Sade said the discipline of ichthyology has remained idle for decades.
"With the collaboration with Forever Sabah, under the Freshwater for Future initiative, the department hopes to revive the appreciation of fish taxonomy and its role in ensuring all freshwater fish species are accounted for conservation."
Moving forward, the department is in the process of establishing a fish museum in Ranau for education and awareness. The Likas Fisheries Complex will also be positioned as the main DNA study and ichthyofauna type specimen depository centre.
"We hope to progressively set up the proper framework to educate the public and local fishery communities about the importance of conserving rare and endemic species in Sabah," he elaborated.
The Chair of the Forever Sabah board Cynthia Ong said the collaboration with the department paved the way for closer partnership with government in advancing sustainable fisheries and supporting community livelihoods.