This was the research done on sharks in Semporna by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) a few years ago, said Aderick Chong in 2016. Chong is the chairman of the Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) and now hopes that more shark and ray species can be protected under the Fisheries Regulations 1999, reports Bernama.
It is estimated that some 55,000 divers come to Sabah every year and 80% of them want to see live sharks in the sea. The dive industry is worth more than RM380 million in tourism receipts.
The state is blessed with many beautiful islands including Sipadan, Mabul, Mataking, Pom-Pom, Lankayan, Mantanani and Layang-Layang, just to name a few. Sipadan in particular is consistently listed among the world’s Top Ten dive destinations.
The industry provides jobs not just to dive instructors but also to tour guides, boatmen, resort staff, restaurants and associated suppliers.
While congratulating the Sabah state government’s move to propose four shark and two ray species to be included in the Regulations (part of the Federal Fisheries Act 1985), Chong points out that civil society, scientists and those in the tourism industry continue to witness alarming numbers of sharks and rays, including endangered species, being caught and killed.
In April, the state government decided to list the great hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, oceanic whitetip shark, oceanic manta and reef manta under the Regulations.
He says the SSPA also hopes that the scalloped hammerhead, silky shark, three species of thresher sharks and nine species of devil rays – which are listed on Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species), would be given similar protection.
“These species always feature high on the wish list of divers, particularly scalloped hammerheads and devil rays. Many divers are attracted to Sabah in the hope of seeing one of these incredible animals,” Chong told Bernama.
“Sadly, they are being killed on a daily basis, so we need the government to act now before they disappear forever.”
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun has warned that Sabah will lose tourists to other countries unless the killing of sharks for their fins is banned in the state.
Blood-stained seas from sharks having their fins sliced off (on land) shocked tourists at Mabul island in 2012 and again in 2016, creating worldwide negative publicity.
The Fisheries department has revealed that sharks and rays are often accidentally caught as “bycatch”, with almost half coming from trawlers. Sharks and rays are also caught by “rawai” (lines of over 50m full of deadly hooks), gill nets and fish traps.
As an advocacy group, SSPA comprises Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah Branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Scuba Junkie SEAS, Shark Stewards, Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) and WWF-Malaysia.