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Wedgefish, sharks and rays being sold at the Kota Kinabalu wet market. - NSTP/COURTESY OF SABAH SHARKS AND RAYS INITIATIVE.

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia has a good opportunity to consider developing effective ways to reduce mortality of marine species, especially sharks and rays which are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Sabah-based shark conservation groups in commending Sabah government's announcement to aid shark conservation are also pulling their weight on the matter through a variety of different programmes.

The non-governmental organisation’s had undertaken this by coming up with the 2019-2020 Sabah Shark and Ray Initiative which strengthens the conservation of the two species in Sabah waters by improving legal and regulatory frameworks as well as addressing commercial and small-scale by-catch of sharks and rays, among others.

In supporting education and awareness of the importance involving these two marine species, Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) chairman Aderick Chong said the demand for shark fin soup had also decimated shark populations worldwide by driving unsustainable fishing.

"We need a perception shift for these animals, to move from fear and over-exploitation, to respect and recognition of their value beyond a bowl of soup. I applaud and welcome the government’s consideration to protect all sharks in Sabah with our own laws,” he said.

Scuba Junkie SEAS conservation manager David McCann said the government needs to create or develop a situation which makes sharks and ray species more valuable to remote coastal communities alive rather than dead.

Citing a recent study, he said a single shark brings in US$815,000 (RM3.39 million) in tourism receipts to the Semporna region - compared to a one-off US$100 (RM416) for its fins.

"The challenge for us, if we want to protect sharks and rays is to give fishing communities a share of the money generated through sustainable approach.

"We need to develop innovative ways that allow remote communities to continue to supporting their families by using means that don’t involve the exploitation of sharks and rays.”

Working on addressing by-catch in commercial fisheries Marine Research Foundation (MRF) executive director Dr Nick Pilcher noted there is lack of data gathered in this industry which hampered efforts to mitigate against by-catches.

"At present we have little knowledge in the way of where and when sharks and rays are taken in commercial fisheries.

"We aim to address that, and provide the state Fisheries Department with this information, so that management decisions are informed by the best scientific knowledge."

To mitigate against shark capture in the industry, WWF-Malaysia is assisting government agencies in leading to increase the effectiveness of conserving shark species in the Tun Mustapha Park off Kudat, through a pilot by-catch mitigation project with small-scale local fishermen.

Its interim head of marine programme Monique Sumampouw said the marine park is one of the largest multi-use parks in Malaysia with designated fishing zones supporting fisheries and community that depends on it for their livelihood.

"Hence there is a need to reduce shark mortality through by-catch mitigation approach to achieve sustainable resources management. This is an important time for the protection of sharks and rays in Sabah as they have diverse ecological roles to the marine ecosystem and which would also benefit economic revenue for Sabah tourism industry.

"It's very exciting to see the state government and NGOs working together to further conserve these important and increasingly threatened species. As Malaysia is a signatory to CITES, and giant guitarfish and wedge fish are found in Malaysian waters. Collaborative efforts should yield great strides for shark and ray conservation.”

In August, participating countries in the Convention on CITES conference voted in favour of adding 18 species of sharks and rays to Appendix II of CITES.

The newly adopted species include wedge fishes a

nd giant guitarfishes, some of which are found in Malaysian waters.

In Sabah itself, three species of wedge fish and two species of giant guitarfish had been recorded.

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