Removing the very ecosystem that species use as their breeding ground is contributing to the decline in fishery production. Pic by NSTP/ KHAIRUNISAH LOKMAN

WE read with concern the article about the declining health of Malaysia’s marine resources, particularly the impact of poaching by illegal trawlers on fish stocks.

This practice is a problem for other countries too.

This is why June 5 has been declared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as the International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

The comments by Fisheries Department director-general Datuk Munir Mohd Nawi should be supported by all.

Additional enforcement and control of trawling will protect these valuable resources, which are a source of food and jobs for many Malaysians.

We propose the director-general look into the health of marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, seagrass meadows, mudflats and mangroves, that are critical habitats in the breeding cycle of many marine species.

United States’ data suggests that about half of all federally managed fisheries depend on coral reefs and related habitats for a portion of their life cycles.

Mangroves, mudflats and seagrass meadows play a critical role. They are interdependent; the loss of one will compromise the habitat value of the others.

However, while some coral reefs have been protected as marine parks, it is pertinent that there have been no mudflats, seagrass areas or smaller coral reefs that enjoy similar protection, particularly in the peninsula.

This has led to their being targeted for reclamation and coastal development on the premise that they are mere “wastelands” to be turned into “profitable” ventures.

The loss of mudflats in Johor, Perak, Melaka and Penang, as well as seagrass meadows in Johor (Pulai) and Terengganu (Kuala Kemaman), attests to the fact that their habitat values have never been properly recognised and afforded the kind of protection that they demand.

For instance, there is no protection for mudflats that support cockle farming, notwithstanding the fact that production has been declining.

Should these sensitive areas not be declared marine parks as well?

The term “marine park”, has, in fact, been replaced by “marine-protected area” internationally to better convey the idea that such areas are not simply protected for the marine tourist trade.

Removing the very ecosystem that species use as their breeding ground is contributing to the decline in fishery production.

Conservation and effective management of these habitats will help ensure the long-term health of fishery resources.

There is some concern that the fishing effort in the seas around Malaysia is excessive.

The steps taken by the Fisheries Department to protect fisheries from illegal exploitation should be applauded.

However, given the scale of the problem — as indicated by the FAO forecast of a total seafood depletion by 2048 — we hope the authorities will consider all possible action to improve management and conservation of this important resource.

REEF CHECK MALAYSIA

Kuala Lumpur

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