The Fisheries Department is not sitting on its hands when it comes to managing and protecting the country’s fisheries sector. (Bernama photo)

PUTRAJAYA: The Fisheries Department is not sitting on its hands when it comes to managing and protecting the country’s fisheries sector.

Its director-general, Datuk Munir Mohd Nawi, said the department had taken numerous measures, including using technology such as the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), to monitor fishing vessels.

“We have real-time visuals of fishing vessels traveling through our waters and we can see if any foreign registered vessels have encroached our waters. The information would then be funneled to the relevant enforcement agencies like the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), which have the right assets to travel to deep sea waters.

“For us, our jurisdiction covers about 12 nautical miles from the shorelines,” he told reporters in the VMS operations room.

Munir said the VMS, which was first used in 2014, had detected 128 foreign vessels encroaching Malaysian waters since 2016 and nearly 50 per cent of them were vessels from Vietnam.

He said the department would provide information gathered from VMS on a daily basis for the next course of action to be taken.

“We have also detected 433 cases of local fishing vessels leaving Malaysian waters without permission, 259 of which headed to Thailand, 168 to Vietnam and three each to China and Indonesia,” he added.

Since 2016, he said, 256 foreign vessels with assets worth RM180 million had been seized.

“A total of 2,199 foreign crew have been detained during the same period and they are from countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.”

Aside from VMS, said Munir, the department had also taken action against Malaysians who had broken the law, including the Fisheries Act 1983 and regulations stipulated in fishing permits. Among the action taken was to revoke the licences for 472 vessels.

“We have also tightened licensing requirements, including the requirement of minimum catch landing for trawling nets... they must land at least 250 metric tonnes (mt), with purse seine nets at 350mt per year, and single hand-line with multiple hooks at 100mt per year,” he said, adding that these requirements were to ensure catches would land in Malaysia and plug the leakages of seafood resources.

Munir said Malaysia lost about an estimated 980,000mt of its fisheries resources, worth between RM3 billion and RM6 billion, a year to illegal fishing by foreigners.

He said those wanting to renew permits must ensure that their Mobile Transceiver Units (MTU) remained 80 per cent active each year.

Munir also said the department had acted to upgrade the fish landing system at ports with the pilot project at Tok Bali port.

He said the upgrades including equipping ports with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and the use of pass cards to electronically record vessels entering and leaving fish landing centres at Tok Bali, Kuantan, Kuala Perlis and Tanjung Manis Integrated Port in Sarawak.

The department, he added, aimed to fit 2,630 vessels with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) for trawlers at Zone B.

“So far we have fitted 1,116 vessels with AIS.”

On the issue of graft, Munir said the department had never taken this matter lightly and had strict guidelines for its staff.

He said it also worked closely with the relevant enforcement agencies to tackle this matter.

“The recent attempt to bribe our enforcement officers happened on May 23 with RM1,500 offered as kickback, while our officers conducted operations 43 nautical miles off Pantai Tanjung Sedili in Johor.

“We lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the money was surrendered to the commission. We fully support MACC’s efforts to stop corruption,” he said.