KOTA KINABALU: The Semporna tourism council wants to meet all stakeholders to ensure that any butchering of manta rays is not done in front of foreign tourists in future.
The council said this in the aftermath of a recent incident when tourists from Western nations, as well as China, were left in shock after watching two manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark being slaughtered in shallow waters in a sea village on Mabul Island.
The island is renowned as a popular diving destination off Sabah’s east coast.
Photos emerged Sunday showing six fishermen cutting up the rays and shark, a scene that a spokesman for a shark conservation group called a “horror show” for the foreign tourists who were divers.
Sabah Shark Protection Association head Aderick Chong said foreign tourists are willing to pay up to RM4,000 for a diving trip to see creatures such as the semi-protected manta rays underwater but instead they saw the rays being cut up on shore.
“We will call for a coordination meeting with the relevant stakeholders such as the fishermen’s association, fishing and wildlife authorities as well as marine police to tackle the issue,” Semporna tourism council chairman Chacho Bulah told FMT.
“Although catching and killing manta rays for domestic consumption is not an offence in Sabah, this course of action is important to protect the nation and state’s image to foreign visitors.
“We hope to hold this meeting as soon as possible.”
Chacho added that he will try to involve all types of fishermen in the meeting.
“There are three types of fishermen, the Bajau Laut, members of fishermen’s associations’ and fishermen under assistance programmes by government agencies.
“We will try to involve all of them,” said Chacho, who is also Semporna district officer.
He admitted. however, that the Bajau Laut, or sea gypsies, live a nomadic lifestyle and therefore may be hard to invite to the meeting.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun was also upset on Sunday, saying the scene of the manta rays being cut up in the presence of foreign tourists on Mabul Island was a “slap to the state’s tourism industry”.
He urged the relevant authorities, including the Fisheries Department and the district tourism action council, to ensure that tourists do not get to see such activities any more.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that the state government had, through the Fisheries Department, proposed last year to have the great hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, oceanic whitetip shark, oceanic manta ray and reef manta officially classified as endangered species.
This was in order to protect them from being killed for domestic consumption.
Currently, the law only prohibits the catching of manta rays for export without a permit.
FMT is still attempting to contact the department for comments on the status of the proposed law.