Sabah may be the first state to ban shark hunting as anglers back the move.
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is likely to be the first state to ban shark hunting for their fins in a bid to protect the marine creature.
The state government is now studying the legal aspects of the proposed ban which would require amendments to the State Wildlife Protection Ordinance with the aim of introducing it by the end of the year.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the situation was becoming critical for this marine creature as only 20% of its original population was still left in the country.
“From my last briefing, there are only four areas in Sabah where sharks can be spotted.
“If we don’t do something about it, the population may disappear from our waters completely,” Masidi said yesterday.
Masidi said he was told by experts that the sharks no longer existed in peninsular Malaysia waters.
He said the state attorney-general was now studying the matter.
He added that the state government was working with non-governmental groups to educate the public on the need to protect sharks from “disappearing” entirely.
“We understand the sensitivities involved as it is a must for some people to serve shark fin soup during weddings. But what we are trying to do is to educate the people to skip the dish for conservation’s sake,” he said, adding that it would also get Malaysia Airports Berhad to bar retailers from selling shark fins in airports in the state.
The state government, he added, had also taken shark fin soup off the menu of its official functions.
Sabah anglers are in favour of the state government's move to ban the harvesting of sharks.
“Finally, it is becoming a reality,” Sabah Anglers Association president Datuk Wilfred Lingham said, adding that the shark population in Sabah waters and the South China Sea was depleting.
“We have been asking for a ban on shark hunting for the past 10 years.
“If we (association members) accidentally hook out a shark, we would release it back into the sea,” Wilfred said, commenting on a recent an-nouncement that the Sabah government planned to ban shark fishing to bolster tourism.
The move was also to conserve the species hunted mainly for their fins.
Last week, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun said local activists and foreign tourists had complained about the cruel “shark finning” activities by local fishermen.
He said the state government would impose the ban from next year, making Sabah the first state in Malaysia one of the world's top shark-catching countries to impose such a ban.
While there was no official data on the shark population, Masidi estimated that only 20% spotted in the state 15 years ago were still in Sabah waters.
Shark fin soup, widely sold across Asia, can sell for more than RM150 a bowl and is often served at weddings and banquets as a symbol of wealth.
However, restaurant operators in Sabah were against the ban, saying that sharks were also harvested for their flesh, skin and bones.
Wilfred, claiming that Hong Kong and Singapore were big markets for shark fins, said many eateries in Sabah were now serving imita- tion shark fin soup that was made of gelatin, fish maw or fish intestine.
An honorary wildlife warden, Wilfred said authentic shark fin soup were difficult to come by in Sabah eateries.
“Not many people can afford the original shark fin soup.”