Initiative to build better tourism, sustainable development through recreational fishing

KOTA KINABALU: Recreational fishing will be taken to a new level through sustainable development.

Recreational fishing, often known as "angling", is a popular outdoor activity in Malaysia and has been promoted as a tourism sport in the country by Tourism Malaysia.

A collaborative project between Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), ReeFish and the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF Malaysia), it aims to bring recreational fishing to a more wholesome and exciting level, while contributing to science and sustainable development, based on the "build back better" concept.

ReeFish founder Datuk Darrel Webber said ReeFish was a locally owned, Sabah-based start-up which aims to provide access to anglers who want to lend a hand to science and, at the same time, contribute towards the sustainability of the popular recreational activity.

Through the collaborative project, Darrel hoped to see the fishing tourism business thrive whilst ensuring natural resources could be sustained for the long term.

"Sabah enjoyed a tremendous boom in the tourism sector prior to the pandemic, and whilst we reaped the benefits, I began to wonder if the natural resources we rely on to attract tourists could be sustained for the long term.

"As such, I was looking for opportunities to enter a tourism-related business that can create a win-win-win situation.

"In this case, we would like to see the fishing tourism business thrive whilst ensuring that the natural resources that support it, the fish, will not be depleted to unsustainable levels and, at the same time, not sacrifice the total experience for the angler.

"It will, no doubt, be a challenge and we are lucky to have found great partners (UMS and WWF Malaysia) to help us in this endeavour.

"If we succeed, we would have introduced a new responsible tourism product for Sabah and, hopefully, start a trend," he said in a joint press statement following the project launching ceremony at the UMS jetty today.

During the ceremony, the project's website was also officially launched, which can be accessed at

Darrel elaborated that the project's website was created to promote responsible angling and to create an avenue for anglers to record their memorable experience by uploading footages, which at the same time contribute to citizen science efforts.

"The footage will be collated as information and passed on to UMS fisheries' scientists to be analysed."

The head of Conservation Sabah, WWF-Malaysia Dr Robecca Jumin noted that globally, the potential to expand and benefit from recreational fishing was plentiful as it stimulates a nation's economic development in more than one way.

"In this collaboration, we want to explore responsible recreational fishing as a potential Covid-19 blue recovery livelihood for local stakeholders.

"We would like to develop sustainable opportunities in recreational fishing based on the build-back concept. This concept is part of disaster management and, importantly, promotes nature-based solutions to conserve biodiversity and restore ecosystem services," said Robecca.

The importance of science for sustainable blue food - a collective term for aquatic food, such as fish, shellfish, and seaweed - has been catapulted into focus following the economic uncertainties in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thus, the blue economy will help Sabah meet its sustainable development goals, particularly in fisheries (fish and seafood production) and marine tourism.

The project's lead researcher, Dr Mabel Manjaji Matsumoto who is an Associate Professor at the Borneo Marine Research Institute, UMS pointed out that their focus would be on marine anglers.

"The research will take on multiple approaches, from appraising the status of recreational fishing in Sabah to addressing the issue of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing contributed by angling activities. One approach is through engaging citizen scientists for their input," she added.

The director (Academic & International) of the Borneo Marine Research Institute Associate Professor Dr Sitti Raehanah Muhamad Shaleh welcomed the timely research project.

"I applaud this commendable research project, especially at a time when there is worldwide concern on marine conservation, and our government is striving to ensure seafood sustainability.

"I also understand that this project will provide an opportunity for the researchers to study shark conservation as sharks are one of the large fishes targeted by some anglers.

"By the end of the year-long project, the team aims to develop a prototype business model incorporating the idea of responsible angling.

"We are all for marine conservation and awareness, so we do expect that this project will receive positive support from responsible anglers, both local and foreign," said Sitti Raehanah.

Sitti Raehanah was represented by deputy director Dr Zarinah Waheed during the event.

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