Shark Fishing

Dried Shark Fins for sale near Kota Kinabalu Fish Market (Photo Credits – Ken Kassem/WWF Malaysia)

Someone emailed me asking for more information about the anti-shark finning proposal I recently did. Here’s an abridged version:

In recent years there have been increasingly vociferous comments about the exploitation of sharks—especially shark finning—in Sabah by tourists and visitors to the state. Complaints and adverse comments have been made in the media and in many internet fora especially by foreign tourists after witnessing shark landings and sales in fish markets in Sabah. There are valid concerns that these negative views and reports will reflect poorly on Sabah as an ecotourism destination, and in the long term, if not addressed adequately, will impact negatively on the local tourism industry.

The tourism industry in Sabah is an important foreign exchange earner, contributing to economic growth, attracting investments and providing employment. Indeed tourism is one of the three sectors which the State Government of Sabah focuses on in its current development agenda. Sabah received some 2.5 million visitors for the year 2010. It has been estimated that receipts from tourists in Sabah in 2010 is about RM4.426 billion, making tourism a major revenue earner . One of the cornerstones of Sabah’s tourism development strategy is the promotion of the state as a premier nature-based tourist attraction. Indeed the main subsector that brings in many affluent foreign tourists to Sabah is ecotourism (which can be defined as sustainable, and environmentally and socially responsible nature-based tourism). A subsector of this ecotourism industry in Sabah is marine ecotourism, and especially SCUBA diving tourism. Last year it is estimated that 42,693 divers visited Sabah generating receipts of about RM192.5 million.

The increasingly widespread concern about sharks among the general public is reflective and in response to the mounting evidence of widespread, substantial, and ongoing declines in the abundance of shark populations worldwide, coincident with marked rises in global shark catches in the last half-century. The current regime with regards to the management, protection and conservation of sharks in Malaysia (including in the State of Sabah) is quite lacking as is acknowledged by the Department of Fisheries Malaysia in its current National Plan of Action for Sharks. There is therefore a real need to improve this situation if the government wants to actively addressed the concerns of fisheries, especially sharks, conservation, and in the broader context, the negative impacts of bad publicity and international opprobrium as a result of continued inaction.

More than 25% of all species of pelagic sharks, 35% of epipelagic species, and over half of large, oceanic-pelagic sharks are classified as threatened in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to TRAFFIC (a global NGO maintaining a wildlife trade monitoring network), and the Pew Environment Group, in a 2011 report, The Future of Sharks: A Review of Action and Inaction, 30 per cent of shark species now threatened or near threatened with extinction. This analysis suggests that shark fisheries are likely to be generally well managed in only a few of the Top 20 shark producing countries and, although NPOAs (National Plan of Action) are in place in these countries/territories, there is no evidence to suggest that the NPOAs are responsible for the effective management of shark fisheries.

The shark fisheries have historically provided a relatively small contribution to the overall fisheries production in Malaysia. The average value of the shark fishery in relation to the overall fishery was however still less than 1%. For the year 2010, the total landings of sharks was 6,788 tonnes which represents just about 0.5% of the total fish landings of the country. Of these total landings of sharks, the state of Sabah contributed the highest (20.5%) which amounted to 1,388 tonnes. Sabah landings of sharks and rays have increased rapidly since the late 1980s. Sharks are taken mainly by trawl and gillnet fisheries, with small quantities taken in longline, purse seine and other fisheries. The landings make up less than 2-3% of total marine landings.

Shark being landed at Pulau Mabul, Semporna (Photo Credits – Eric Madeja/WWF Malaysia)

SEAFDEC (Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center) Sharks and Rays of Malaysia and Brunei Darulsalam a study of SEAFDEC from 199 to 2004 recorded 56 species of sharks. Several species were rarely found and restricted only in certain areas and “most probably are endangered and threatened, and require serious protective measure to prevent them from becoming severely threatened or extinct”. These include the Whale shark, Rhincodon typus and Borneo river shark, Glypis sp., which is found in Sabah. Results of the other studies conducted in Sabah rivers have shown that in addition to the Borneo river shark, Bullsharks (Carcharhinus leucas); three batoids: giant freshwater stingray (Himantura chaophraya) and two sawfishes: Pristis microdon and Pristis zijsron.

Malaysia drew up its NPOA Sharks and was published in 2006. In it the Department of Fisheries, Malaysia acknowledged that in the country insofar as the conservation and management of sharks was concerned locally, there is a “lack of enforcement to conserve vulnerable or threatened sharks and rays stocks; lack of effective protection to possible critical habitats in some coastal areas; and no proper areas for sustainable eco-tourism activities.” Malaysian fisheries are managed under the Fisheries Act 1985. However, there is no specific regulation pertaining to the management of sharks and rays except for whale shark, which is protected under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) Regulations 1999. There are also no regulations pertaining to freshwater shark and ray management, which is under the jurisdiction of the states. The International Trade In Endangered Species Act 2008 only lists only 4 shark species under Schedule III of the Act: Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus), Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Sawfishes (Pristidae) and Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus).

No data are presently available on the economics of the shark fisheries. The low economic emphasis that is currently placed on sharks, due probably to their occurrence as a fishery bycatch is not reflective of the shark’s true economic potential in other marine activities such as recreational fishing and ecotourism. The presence of sharks at established diving sites is a strong lure for most divers, which may then support other economic activities such as accomodation, boat chartering, tourist guides, rental of diving equipment, etc.

Shark fishing near Pulau Mabul, Semporna (Photo Credits – Karim Farah/Dubai)

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