KOTA KINABALU: The State Cabinet has agreed with Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun on the immediate need to include sharks in Sabah waters in the protected species list.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Yahya Hussin said the Cabinet also feels that sharks must be protected before they become extinct in Sabah waters.
Masidi has suggested that sharks be included in the protected species list under the Sabah Wildlife Act, the Agriculture and Food Industry Minister said.
“We were informed by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment that the shark species is more or less becoming extinct, so he suggested that it should be put in the protected species list,” Yahya said.
“The Cabinet agrees with the Minister’s proposal because if sharks, especially the species that are found in Sabah waters, become extinct, it will affect the state’s tourism,” he said adding that sharks are always an attraction for scuba divers.
“We will lose if they become extinct,” Yahya said, adding that the State Fisheries Department is also looking at how it can protect sharks through its laws.
“They want to study the law and will be asking the Attorney General (for advice)…we are in the process of finalizing and looking at the legal point of the law,” he said.
Restaurateurs in the state have questioned the recent State Government’s proposal to ban shark hunting in Sabah waters.
Describing the move as “illogical”, Sabah Restaurants Association chairman Lim Vun Chen said sharks should be harvested like any other marine creature.
He said the ban would affect the livelihood of many fishermen, especially in the east coast of Sabah who depend on shark hunting.
Masidi had said in response to the comments that it was premature to claim many would be affected by the ban.
“Sabah is known as one of the best dive spots in the world and we cannot risk this and get boycotted. However, we will talk to those involved and find the best solution,” he said.
Describing the proposal as “still at the preliminary stage”, Masidi said the State Government will be calling a dialogue to include non-governmental organisations’ members, fishermen, restaurant owners and tourism players to get their feedback on the matter.
“At this point of time, we have suggested that we should start by educating the people and all stakeholders. They have to understand the real issue here. We want to protect our marine life, especially our sharks so that they would not go extinct.
“The government will be working with the NGOs to spread the message around,” he said.
Masidi said a recent study showed that the shark population was depleting, except in four protected areas, namely Sipadan in Semporna, the Langkayan Island in Sandakan, Pulau Layang-Layang in Labuan and Sabah waters off Tawau district.
He said the proposal came following complaints by NGOs and the tourism players in the state.
“We have also been receiving complaints from avid divers who fear that shark hunting will affect the dive industry in the state. They have expressed their wish to boycott Sabah should shark hunting continue,” he said.
In March this year, JCI Tanjung Aru Chapter kicked off a campaign against shark fin dishes in eateries throughout the state.
According to the project manager Aderick Chong, the ultimate aim of the campaign is to get sharks included in the protected species list under the Sabah Wildlife Act, which protects endangered wildlife species such as the Rhino and orangutan but does not cover fish species.
Chong disclosed that JCI Tanjung Aru is collaborating with Green Connection on the programme.
Green Connection, he said, carried out a survey involving 30 scuba divers who did three dives a day for 30 days all over Sabah.
“They logged a total of 2,700 diving hours and reported that sharks were only seen in protected areas such as Pulau Sipadan as well as other marine parks… there are no sharks in waters other than these places,” he said.