Sunday, February 23

Dwindling shark population a blow to Sabah tourism


KOTA KINABALU: Prominent social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye has called for a ban on shark hunting and finning activities in Sabah due to economic, sustainability and humane reasons.

He said the dwindling shark population was affecting the state’s tourism revenue as the shark population was estimated to have declined by 80 per cent over the past three decades.

“Sharks as predators at the top of the marine food pyramid, play a critical role in balancing the ocean ecosystem. It would be ecologically and economically damaging when sharks are removed from ocean ecosystems through overfishing or killing of sharks for their fins,” he said in a statement yesterday.

According to marine and shark conservationists, the rare Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray only found in Borneo waters could be on the verge of extinction. Sharks are also vulnerable to over-exploitation as their populations are slow to reproduce and may not recover once overfished.

According to Lee, sharks form a significant part of Sabah’s RM354 million dive industry.

He said each year, local and international tourists and divers go to islands in Sabah particularly Semporna to see the wonders of marine treasures including the rare and endangered sharks.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science, based on its study a few years ago, valued a single living shark in Sabah’s waters at US$815,000 in terms of tourism revenue to Sabah, compared with US$100 for its fins.

Besides the economic factor,Lee reckoned that the Government also had to consider the humane reason.

Finning involves the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark’s fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks are either starved to death, eaten alive by other fish or drowned, he stressed.

Globally, tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of finning. Therefore, Malaysia has to tighten the regulations on the killing of wildlife, not only in the sea but also in the forest.

In the case of Sabah, Lee said it was timely that the amendment was made to the Fisheries Act to allocate a provision that prohibits shark hunting and finning activities.

“If necessary, the Government should introduce a new law to guarantee the protection of endangered sharks.

“There is no two ways about it. We have to act now or else, our future generation will be affected from unsustainable ecosystem due to over-fishing and deforestation as well as unsustainable development such as irresponsible environmental degradation and exploitation of resources,” he added.