Stop foreign fishermen from entering Sabah waters, says minister

Sabah Agriculture and Food Minister Junz Wong.

KOTA KINABALU: Agriculture and Food Minister Junz Wong has blamed the presence of Vietnamese fishing boats in Sabah’s waters for the decrease in fish there as well as the damage to crucial natural resources such as coral reefs.

Speaking to the media today, Wong urged the maritime authorities to immediately mobilise and focus their assets in areas normally entered by foreign boats. Otherwise, he said, they risked losing Sabah’s marine resources which would affect the local fishermen.

Sabah currently has 51 deep sea fishing vessels licensed by the Sabah Fisheries Department and operated by 11 local companies.

From these, 18 vessels were locally made while 33 others were built by Vietnamese companies and are operated by local Sabah companies which have obtained the appropriate permits from the department.

The purchase of foreign vessels from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Brunei has been barred since 2015, although those who bought such vessels prior to that are allowed to continue operations.

These deep-sea fishing vessels are allowed to operate in two zones: the West Coast Zone and the Tawau Zone, within 30 nautical miles of the shore.

Of the 51 vessels, seven use seine nets, 11 use trawlers and 33 use the longline fishing technique.

However, Wong said he had received numerous complaints that boats which were supposed to use longline fishing had been using trawlers instead.

“The maritime authorities should double their efforts to stop this,” he added.

He praised the cooperation between the Sabah Fisheries Department and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), voicing hope that this would be further improved so that the law could be enforced more effectively.

This year alone, the MMEA has detained five boats from Vietnam that were caught in Sabah’s waters.

Under the Fisheries Act 1985, foreign vessels caught in Malaysia’s waters can be fined up to RM1 million for the boat owner and RM100,000 for each crew member with the vessel seized for disposal.

“We will dispose of the boats by sinking them in the sea,” Wong said. “In a way, they will become artificial reefs for fish to breed in.

“We also want to send a stern warning to potential law breakers and intruders that we mean business.”

Sabah has 244,140 sq km of water and a 1,359km coastline. However, Wong said this should not be an excuse for any failure to guard the interests and sovereignty of the state.

“I hope the public will continue to give us their cooperation and report any fishing activity which they believe is against the law,” he said.