Protection for 5 shark and 2 ray species

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PETALING JAYA: The Federal Government is to provide protection for seven species of sharks and rays, Agriculture Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek has said, in the midst of a controversy over shark fishing in Sabah.

He said the state had autonomous power over fishing and could ban fishing of all sharks if it chose to do so.

However, federal law would allow all the rest of Malaysia’s 67 species to be fished, he said, according to a press interview.

Of the 67 species, 48 could be found in Sabah waters, but only two, the whale shark and the sawfish, were considered endangered.

Federal protection would be extended to the oceanic white tip shark, four hammerhead shark species, the giant oceanic manta ray and the reef manta ray, as endangered species.

“Not all sharks are endangered,” he told the Star newspaper. “There are 67 types. These are common species that you can see in the market every day, so you cannot generalise sharks as a whole.”

He agreed with conservations that endangered species must be protected. “If Sabah wants a total ban on shark hunting, they have the right to do so. There is no problem with us. We don’t get the profit, only Sabah,” he said.

“But to have a blanket ban on all sharks under the Fisheries Act, that is not possible,” he was quoted as saying. “If you want to do total banning, it has to fit international standards.

He said total protection could lead to an imbalance in marine life, because the shark is considered an apex predator, which feeds on smaller species of fish.

He disputed claims by shark conservationists that Malaysia’s shark population had been depleted by 80 percent since 1989. Studies were being conducted to manage the shark population, he said.

According to ministry statistics, shark products make up 0.1% of Malaysia’s total fisheries output with 1,466 metric tonnes to the 1.45 million metric tonnes of seafood caught from 2008 to 2014.

Malaysia is ranked 10th in the world for shark hunting according to a conservationist group.

The environment ministry has proposed a Protected Marine Animals Act to protect sharks. Ahmad Shabery said discussions were continuing between the two ministries.