NGOs urge More Research on Shark Population Status
“While it’s true that fishing effort has reduced, it is Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA)’s firm belief that the existing threats to sharks, such as overfishing and climate change must not be discounted. The landing assessment is not fully representative of the population status of sharks in our waters, and further research on population dynamics, ecology, spawning and aggregation areas need to be encouraged, “ says Aderick Chong, SSPA Chair.
In recognizing that sharks and rays are generally bycatch, mainly in our trawl and gillnet fisheries, it is imperative that we develop a bycatch mitigation plan that will ensure efficient fishery operations.
“The DoF Sabah’s effort to analyze landing trends in Sabah is laudable and important in the steps towards managing sharks – but more needs to be done. We hope that the full results of the Department of Fisheries’ study will be made available – especially if this includes detailed records from every fish market around Sabah, which would be invaluable for shark conservation programmes. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with DoF to discuss the study, and explore possibilities to ensure that we have healthy shark and ray populations to keep our oceans in balance,” Chong continued.
“Sharks are vital to the health of our marine ecosystems in Sabah,” continued Chong. “As apex predators, they have a special role - weeding out the old and sick in fish populations. This ensures the long-term health of the fish stocks and provides balance to the ecosystem. Sharks have been shaping our oceans for the past 450 million years, the biodiversity of fish species and behaviour such as schooling – which fishermen rely on – is a response to shark predation over the years. Taking sharks out of the ecosystem would not protect the population of other fishes – rather it would cause imbalance in the ecosystem, and impact the fish stocks.”
It would also be disastrous for the tourism industry in Sabah, which is the single biggest employer of Sabahans in the state. Thousands of people travel to Sabah; particularly to the iconic Pulau Sipadan and Mabul each year to dive with sharks and rays, providing valuable tourism ringgit not only to dive centres, but also hotels, restaurants, taxi drivers and shops all over Sabah. If the exploitation of sharks and rays continues to the point where they are not commonly encountered, Sabah risks losing the millions of dollars brought to the state annually. This is particularly the case for species such as the scalloped hammerhead, a globally endangered species, which is one of the major drawcards for dive tourists coming to Sabah. “That they are still seen here is incredible,” said Mr Chong. “Sabah waters may represent a last safe haven for these rare animals, and we should afford them more protection.”
Mr Chong applauded the Department of Fisheries for strengthening its enforcement capacity – especially with regards to identification of CITES-listed species at airports. “By definition, CITES listed species are under threat of extinction or endangered. We need to be playing our part to ensure in that we have healthy shark and ray populations, and a healthy ocean in the future."
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For more information, please contact:
President, Sabah Shark Protection Association
Mobile: +6016-830 6828
Senior Communications and Campaigns Officer, Marine Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +60 88 262 420