KOTA KINABALU: Sabah earned RM192.5 million from the diving industry last year, said Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun.
He said people from the world over come to Sabah to dive and admire Sabah’s rich marine life, including sharks that are facing the threat of fast dwindling population.
“Tourism, one of the fastest growing industries in the world, is going to be our major revenue earner in the coming years,” he said.
The sector is already one of the state’s biggest providers of employment, directly or indirectly, he said.
“As such, it makes economic sense to conserve our sharks because they are one of the reasons why international divers prefer to come to Sabah to dive.
“The sharks are indeed our tourism asset. Divers by the umpteen thousands fly all the way to Sabah to see them in their natural habitat,” he added.
Masidi had disclosed on Saturday that the State Government’s decision to impose a total ban on shark fins in Sabah next year.
He said his ministry was currently looking into a suitable buffer period to allow traders and food operators to clear their stocks before introducing the new law.
Yesterday, he pointed out that shark fining or shark fishing is not sustainable simply because shark is an endangered species. When the last shark is caught it will be the end of this industry.
He said it would be the reason many divers start avoiding Sabah as we would have killed the very reason they come to dive here.
According to him, 42,693 divers came to Sabah last year and 66.7 percent of them are international visitors.
“Imagine how much revenue we are going to lose if just half of them decided not to dive in Sabah if our sharks become extinct.
“We also need to protect the interest of dive operators, most of whom all are locals,” Masidi added.
Environmentalist groups and non-governmental organizations in Sabah have been calling for the ban on shark finning, claiming the species is almost completely wiped out from the state waters.
Shark finning, which has long been blamed for the losses of the shark population worldwide, refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discarding of the rest of the fish.
It usually takes place at sea so the fishermen have only the fins to transport as shark meat is considered to be of low value and therefore not worth the cost of taking them to the market.
The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.
Shark finning is widespread, and largely unmanaged and unmonitored, with specialists estimating that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins annually.
It is a multi-billion dollar industry with a pound of dried shark fin can retail for USD300 or more. Any shark is taken-regardless of age, size, or species.