These groups are against the amendment to the Fisheries Act 1985 to make shark fishing illegal.
But it has to be recognised that one cannot fish for sharks at the rate that other fish are harvested – using industrial methods of fishing which may be either large scale purse seine, trawl, otter trawl, gill nets, or small scale hook and line and longline, gill/drift net, and traps or other traditional gear – without a population decline in the species.
Considering the extension of the area and the expansion of deep sea trawl fishing, the shark resource may have been fully exploited, or close to it, as sharks are frequently caught as incidental by-catch in fisheries directed at other species, such as tuna.
Sharks which are priced for their fins are the main target species of longline fishermen in Sabah and Sarawak where they are mainly caught in trawls and drift nets, depending on the locality and season.
Fisheries in East Malaysia may involve a large number of small artisanal fishing boats employing a diversity of fishing gear in addition to the many unlicensed boats and gear and part-time fishermen.
The question of whether there is an on-site catch monitoring by fisheries officials and an accurate estimate of the abundance of sharks in the region is essential, in order to determine the reliability of the by-catch estimates and the sustainability of the incidental catches in fisheries.
At present, there are no fisheries statistics on the estimated by-catch rates on sharks. There is no recent research on the impact of current harvests on shark levels, and little knowledge of their stock status.
Improved information capture at the point of landing by fisheries monitors and fisheries control officers is required to improve the quality of the data.
Whether caught as by-catch or as targeted species, few controls are in place to limit the harvest levels of all sharks in East Malaysia waters, and it is unclear whether the current levels of extraction are sustainable for all or certain shark species.
Regulation and protection for sharks cannot occur without volumes of data over years proving that it is required.
Even then, attempts to protect a threatened species or to lower quotas, even when based on solid scientific data, are almost invariably vigorously opposed by fishing and business community.
Currently there are no laws that protect sharks from fishing in the open seas and few countries have adequate laws to protect sharks from over-fishing.
Sharks are over-fished primarily for two reasons: the high demand for their fins, with a few species also valued for their meat and, secondly, a slow reproductive rate compared with other types of fish.
Some countries have banned shark fishing within waters they control. But the following countries/states have banned shark fishing entirely: Congo-Brazza-ville, French Polynesia (except for mako sharks), Israel, Republic of the Maldives, Palau, Honduras (moratorium) and the US state of Hawaii.
More laws are needed to protect sharks. Little by little, more protection of shark are being proposed and passed throughout the world.
The call by Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun, to protect its shark population is a step in the right direction, and SAM urges him to stand firm in his decision to ban shark fishing.
S.M. MOHD IDRIS,
Sahabat Alam Malaysia.