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30th March, 2016

KOTA KINABALU: A mass boycott of restaurants serving shark fin dishes has been called for by tour operators. The clarion call comes amid fears that the iconic marine predator is being hunted to extinction.

And its disappearance could have a devastating effect on Sabah’s tourism industry which raked in RM6.4 billion in 2015.

That was the singular warning from the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) which have also called for urgent federal government action.

“The shark population in Sabah has declined by 80 per cent over the past three decades and they are rarer in waters off peninsular Malaysia,” said MATTA vice president-elect Datuk Tan Kok Liang yesterday.

“The remaining sharks found in Sabah attracted over 55,000 divers last year, pumping RM323 million to the local economy. But this annual revenue may be wiped out once the sharks are further depleted,”he said.

According to him, shark hunting and finning had already been banned by the European Union, and a further 27 other nations have followed suit since 2013.

Sabah has repeatedly called on the federal government to ban shark hunting.

“We need to be more caring and shark finning is cruel. As for the tourism industry, it is no different from killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Many tourist visiting Sabah were environmental conscious, and if this continued, it could backfire on ecotourism.

“But the ban on shark hunting and killing will continue to be delayed as long as the hunters are accorded greater priority than this magnificent fish species, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature in our marine ecosystems,” Tan said.

He added that MATTA was now adopting a two-prong approach by calling for a boycott of establishments serving shark fins.

“The slogan – When the buying stops, the killing can too – is just as applicable here as in other conservation efforts.

“Shark fin consumption has no longer been in vogue for some time and leading hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, JW Marriott, Le Meridien, Peninsula, Shangri-La, Waldorf Astoria and Westin do not serve it.”

A recent report by the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, found that a shocking 98 per cent of the 375 restaurants surveyed continue to choose profit over environmentally friendly practices.

But if voluntary efforts were ineffective, tourism authorities could compile a blacklist of restaurants serving shark fins so that tourists could boycott them altogether, and not just the dish.

“A strategic campaign to raise awareness and educate restaurant operators, locals and tourists would have a rippling effect across society, and ensure that such noble conservation efforts are sustainable.

“A simple competition to pick the best slogan for not eating shark fins would generate much interest and publicity, and those enterprising enough to take part could make a killing selling T-shirts with meaningful slogans,” he added.

And a drop in demand for shark fins, he said, would force fishermen to look for more sustainable catches or perhaps pool resources to build kelongs, where many marine fish sold in the markets were farmed.

“These kelongs can also be turned into tourist attractions for daytrippers and overnight visitors,” he said.

“If a nationwide prohibition is not practical, the least the government could do is to introduce it to states that call for a ban, starting with Sabah,” said Tan.

He also said tourism was the lifeblood of the state and the fact that it earned RM6.4 billion last year did not come by chance but as a result of great foresight in banning logging more than 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister told New Sabah Times yesterday his ministry with the concurrence of the state government wrote to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries asking for an amendment in a provision of the Fisheries Act that would prohibit shark hunting and shark finning in Sabah.

“The federal authority responded five years later to say that it is not agreeable to the proposal.

“Sabah’s case is plain and simple. Diving industry is a major contributor to tourism receipts earning RM350 million a year and over 55,000 divers come to Sabah annually and 90 per cent are foreigners,” Masidi said.

He said Sabah was a diving paradise in Malaysia and well known internationally for that and the majority of the divers wanted to see sharks in the wild.

“Sabah is the only state in Malaysia left with shark population. Unfortunately it is estimated that 80 per cent of sharks in Sabah have been killed for their fins. Meaning, we are left with the last 20% and that too are fast disappearing due to fishing and shark hunting.

“At the rate they are harvested, sharks could go extinct during our life time,” he cautioned. Masidi also said the support for the ban was overwhelming especially among the youth.

Chinese based NGOs in Sabah, he said, were some of the most vocal supporters of the proposed ban.

“When the last shark is killed, that will spell doom to the diving industry. Divers would simply go and dive in other countries where they can still sight sharks in the wild.

“And the RM350 million annual revenue would be gone, many would lose their jobs. Sabah’s position as a major tourist destination will surely be affected,” the minister stressed.

Masidi added that tourism was the only industry in Sabah where over 90 per cent of the players/workers were locals.

“80 per cent of plantation workers and 70 per cent of construction workers are foreigners. The refusal to ban shark hunting and shark finning are going to affect the locals not the foreigners.

“Their excuse is that there is no shark hunting/finning industry. People have come up with enough evidence to negate this rather lame excuse.

“It’s like saying there are no smuggled cigarettes in the country,” he said.

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