Shark Finning: The Dark Side of Malaysian Paradise
by: Tommy Birn
Malaysia is well known for being one of the most biologically diverse countries on earth, ranking 12th in the world according to the National Biodiversity Index. It has more reef fish diversity than anywhere else on the planet, containing 37% of known coral reef fish species,
Malaysian waters form part of the Coral Triangle, a 6 million km2 marine region that houses over 500 species of reef-building corals. This unique ecosystem holds tremendous importance to the world’s marine biodiversity, with more coral, fish, and critters than anywhere else on earth. It is also home to some 67 shark species, demonstrating just how significant this region is to the world’s marine ecosystems.
Threats Facing the Coral Triangle
While Malaysian waters, and the rest of the Coral Triangle, are critical to marine life, the area faces increasing threats from overfishing, community disruption, tourism, pollution, and climate change. Overfishing and shark finning are a big part of the problem. Sharks are particularly vulnerable to the situation due to the high demand for shark fins and certain biological characteristics including having few young, maturing late and having long life spans.
They play a vital role in the ecosystem, yet several shark species are facing a decline due to unregulated fishing. Some of the most commonly taken shark species in Malaysia, according to reports by SEAFDEC, include the Spadenose Shark, Brownbanded Bamboo Shark, Spottail Shark and Scalloped Hammerhead. They are typically taken by trawl and gillnet fisheries, as well as purse seine, longline, and others.
While Malaysian fishers do not officially practice shark finning, the evidence would suggest otherwise. Shark fins are still traded today since consuming sharks, or their fins are not considered illegal. The country has been a longtime importer of shark products and you regularly see sharks sold in local markets. So, not only are they contributing to the decline of local shark populations, but also of those further afield.
Just this year several images surfaced online, demonstrating clear evidence of shark fishing in Malaysia, including those that appeared on social media and those taken by Swedish divers. The shocking pictures showcasing carcasses and bloody waters in one of the world’s most famous diving spots will not do anything to help local tourism, on which much of the population depends on income.
The heartbreaking images clearly show the cruel practice taking place and something must be done to raise awareness of the issue and put pressure on the government to make the necessary changes to help conserve the shark populations in these waters.
According to WWF-Malaysia, the real problem is that Malaysians don’t seem to care that much about sharks. Their relationship with them is mostly gastronomical or recreational, so many are more concerned about eating sharks, or at least their fins. Educating the local population will prove necessary to shift perceptions and bring about change.
The Need for Conservation
Conserving Malaysia’s marine biodiversity is of vital importance. It faces a threat from numerous sources and while the country has taken steps to improve the situation, more needs to be done to reduce shark fishing activities. There is a noticeable absence of laws that help to manage, conserve and protect sharks in the country. So long as no laws ban the practice, shark fishing and finning will continue to take place.
Seven species of sharks and rays have recently been classed as endangered and will thus receive better protection, yet not all sharks will enjoy the same levels of protection. With 67 common species often seen in the markets, it’s clear that sharks are continually fished incidentally or in mixed fisheries. Sabah is considering putting in place a blanket ban since it ‘s hard to protect only certain species from fishers who may not be up to speed on the protected species.
Banning this practice is of critical importance, not only for the sake of the sharks but also for the economy that is so dependent on the marine ecological system that currently exists. People need to be aware of how their actions will affect their local community and future generations.
Malaysians should place shark conservation under state protection with a focus on expanding tourism around shark habitats since the Federal Government is currently making no attempt to improve the situation. Doing so will help to tackle the issue, conserving the environment without putting the local’s livelihood at risk.
About the Author:
Tommy Birn is a 37 year old dreamer who still thinks that words and good actions can change the world. He was born in Serbia, currently stuck somewhere in Asia, where he tries to explain how killing sharks just because of few spoons of soup is not something we should be proud of. He is also a father of two beautiful angels, passionate scuba diver and traveler.