The Impact of Sustainable Development on our Marine Species | WWF Malaysia

The Impact of Sustainable Development on our Marine Species

Posted on 02 February 2008
Humphead Wrasse - world's largest reef fish. Now a highly prized delicacy
Humphead Wrasse - world's largest reef fish. Now a highly prized delicacy
© WWF-Malaysia/N.K.Tong

Conserving and protecting the environment for future generations. Is this is myth, or do we, as residents of Sabah, really subscribe to this? With recent buildup surrounding the newly-launched Sabah Development Corridor (SDC), there is renewed faith in ‘sustainable development’.

But what exactly does this translate to for our marine life?

Fishing industries worldwide are in a vulnerable state. Faced by a wealth of threats which are ultimately causing the demise of fish stocks, it has become glaringly apparent that steadfast, committed collaborative intervention is required. Intervention that must start in our own backyard.

In support of this, and in tune with SDC’s Blueprint outlining sustainable utilisation and harvesting of natural resources, the Department of Fisheries Sabah, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and WWF-Malaysia have set wheels in motion to keep alive the Live Reef Fish Trade (LRFT) in Sabah, a trade which is driven by Hong Kong, China and Singapore. This trade has long been noted as a high value economic activity. Fish such as the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulates), humpback grouper (Cromileptes altivelis) and giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) are examples of high valued fish, prized for their texture and flavour.

In recent meetings with Live Reef Fish exporters placing special focus on humphead wrasse (locally known as mameng) held in Dragon Inn Restaurant, Semporna on 19 January and Atlantis Café, Kota Kinabalu last Friday night, Encik Lawrence Kissol from the Marine Resource Management Branch of Department of Fisheries Sabah stressed on the importance of managing trade. Populations of mameng and ikan kerapu, according to the analysis of data on statistics of fish landings from 1994 to 2004 collected by the Department of Fisheries, are decreasing. This indicates the effects of reduced fish stock by both commercial and traditional fishing methods. The majority of catch is obtained through the use of traditional fishing gear such as hook and line, and spear fishing, reflecting that these coral reef fishes are mostly caught by small-scale fishermen. Thus, export of mameng, which is now listed as an endangered species, needs to be managed sustainably.

What does this imply? How can efforts to manage trade make a difference?

First, let us understand the predicament of the mameng. This fish can grow up to 2.3 meters in length, 190kg in weight, and reach over 30 years of age. It is particularly vulnerable to over fishing due to its late sexual maturity (it needs to reach between 5 – 7 years, approximately 35-50cm to reproduce), its need to aggregate when spawning, and due to the fact that it changes sex from female to male as it grows older, resulting in the existence of populations with either no males or no females. Extreme vulnerability, even before its extraction through human activities. Extreme vulnerability which has led to the tremendous reduction in wild populations, leading to the use of destructive fishing practices such as cyanide fishing to capture this highly elusive high-value fish.

Since 2004, Mameng has been listed as an Endangered Species on The World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List. Listed in Appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), international trade of this species is controlled. Managing trade of this species – policy development, implementation and enforcement – can have an affect on whether this species will start to sustain itself and be omitted from Appendix 2, or if it gets ‘upgraded’ into Appendix 1 (indicating an even greater problem for the survival of this species), which prohibits all forms of trading.

In Sabah, Department of Fisheries is the designated CITES Management Authority overlooking matters relating to mameng. With a quota of 200 tails per company per month set for exporters since 2007, and 19 companies currently holding permits, total legal exports can reach 45,600 tails per year, a figure five times greater than the quota set in neighboring Indonesia. This figure is a cause of concern, a figure that will ultimately result in the demise of mameng found naturally in the wild. As it stands, some of the wild humphead wrasses currently being exported from Sabah are sourced from the Philippines.

Following this, WWF-Malaysia, under its Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Programme, is promoting the need to conduct a Non Detrimental Findings (NDF) study with TRAFFIC-SEA and the Department of Fisheries Sabah, similar to that done in Indonesia which resulted in the setting of the quota for export of 8,900 tails per year (Sadovy et al., 2007). Using the FAO Stock Recruitment Approach Model, this study requires information on areas of the targeted reefs, density of fishes at where different levels of fishing are conducted, data on mortality, and data on export. Based on the findings, a revised and more accurate quota can be set to encourage the survival of the mameng and to achieve sustainable fisheries.

This is one step towards protecting our marine species. With a list of other issues faced by our marine ecosystems, such as destruction of coral reefs through fish blasting and the use of cyanide, inadequate sewage systems, coastal developments resulting in sedimentation and waste into the waters, and agricultural runoffs, intervention is vital. Commitment by our government, as outlined in the Sabah Development Corridor Blueprint, is vital. Through this, Sabah’s natural heritage can be protected, be it to ensure the continuity of the thriving dive industry, or for the sustainability of fish species for the productive and profitable fisheries industry.

From: Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma, Executive Director/CEO, WWF-Malaysia

For further information, please contact:
Mr Mathew Maavak, Media and Public Affairs Consultant, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +603 7803 3772 ext 6103, Email:
Humphead Wrasse - world's largest reef fish. Now a highly prized delicacy
Humphead Wrasse - world's largest reef fish. Now a highly prized delicacy
© WWF-Malaysia/N.K.Tong Enlarge