138,000 sharks, rays caught in Sabah every year


Participants posing for a photo at the end of the Sabah Sustainable Management of Sharks and Rays Workshop.

SANDAKAN (March 2): There are 69 species of sharks and 85 species of rays recorded in Malaysia, said Sabah Fisheries Department director Azhar Kassim.

He said sharks and rays are unique species when compared to other fish species because of their low reproductive rate, which means they are slow to mature and produce few offspring.

“If the fishing of sharks and rays is not controlled, then it is no surprise that one day the number of sharks and rays will decrease or become extinct in Sabah and thus will change the marine ecosystem,” he said.

Azhar said this during the Sabah Sustainable Management of Sharks and Rays Workshop at the Pavillion Hotel in Sandakan on Feb 29.

His speech was read by Sabah Fisheries Department Deputy Director of Fisheries (Operations) Lawrence Kissol Jr.

The workshop was organized by the Sabah Department of Fisheries and in collaboration with Marine Research Foundation (MRF), WWF-Malaysia and Shark Conservation Fund.

Azhar said although the government had not issued special fishing licenses to catch sharks and rays, unless they are by-catch, a study conducted by MRF between 2020-2022 shows an estimated 138,000 sharks and rays are caught in Sabah every year.

“This number may be a sign for us to step up our management to protect these species,” he said.
Azhar said the management of aquatic species, including sharks and rays, is one of the priorities of the Sabah Fisheries Department under the Sabah Fisheries Department Strategic Plan 2021-2030, the Sabah Maju Jaya Development Plan (SMJ) 1.0 (2021-2025), the Blue Economy Program and ‘Goal 14: Life Below Water’ under the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in which the department is actively involved, either directly or indirectly.

Azhar added that Sabah has legal authority in the management and protection of aquatic species through the Fisheries Act 1985, International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008 and Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Enactment 2003.

The main management strategy for sharks and rays in Malaysia is the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Shark (NPOA-Shark), he said.

Azhar said to achieve the objectives in protecting sharks and rays in Sabah, cooperation from various parties which include government departments, agencies and the public is important.

“For example: the Fisheries Department controls licensing, Sabah Parks manages conservation and prohibited areas, while the enforcement department ensures that no rules are violated.

“Programs such as the ban on eating shark fins during official government events while promoting crab soup to replace shark fin soup, and the ban on cutting shark fins on board.

“Fishermen can also play their role such as releasing the sharks and rays that are still alive when the catch is made, while NGOs can contribute in terms of research and implementation of various awareness programs,” he said.

Meanwhile, in his closing speech, Kissol said one of the Sabah Fisheries Department’s ongoing efforts in the protection of sharks and rays is the rezoning of fishing operation areas in Sabah.

He said there are currently three fishing zones, namely the West Coast Zone, the East Coast Zone and the Tawau Zone.

“Currently we are creating new demarcations and adding a fourth fishing zone by next year,” he said.
Kissol also said that the department has taken into account to gazette the Tun Mustapha Marine Park in Kudat following research conducted by MRF that managed to identify hot spots of sharks and rays in the area.