The Malaysian state of Sabah is planning a shark fishing ban in a bid to improve their tourism industry.
Tourism, culture and environment minister for Eastern Sabah state on Borneo, Masidi Manjun, said complaints made by local activists and foreign tourists regarding cruel fishing practices have contributed to the state government’s plans to impose the ban starting next year.
The decision makes Sabah the first state in Malaysia, ranked one of world’s top shark catching countries, to aim for imposing such a ban. As estimated by Masidi, only 20 percent of sharks spotted in the state 15 years ago are still in Sabah waters, making the ban an important step in preventing the decimation of shark numbers beyond recovery.
“There are only four coastal areas now where sharks can be spotted,” he told The Associated Press. “If we don’t do something about it, sharks may disappear from our waters completely. We will also lose tourism dollars.”
Restaurant owners in Sabah, however, oppose the ban, saying that sharks are also harvested for their flesh, skin and bones, which can be made into soup.
“We conserve our sharks here, but then they swim out to the South China Sea and get caught by Chinese or Vietnamese fishermen instead. What is the point?” said Sabah Restaurant Association chairman Lim Vun Chen.
While Sabah state will focus on educating consumers about the cruelty of shark finning and has removed shark fin soup off the menu for official government functions, the state will not yet ban the importation and sale of shark fins.
Tourism is a high revenue earning sector for Sabah, known for rich biodiversity in its rain forests and tropical reefs.