KOTA KINABALU: The killing of sharks and manta rays in Sabah’s diving heaven of Mabul Island is legal, said state Fisheries Department director Dr Ahamed Sade.
He noted that the killings, which had horrified tourists, were not illegal because the sharks are not protected and the rays can be consumed locally.
“In Sabah, there is no law against catching or consuming these marine species,” said Dr Ahamed.
The photos of butchered sharks and rays, including the oceanic manta ray, which has been identified as a banned species, have been widely circulated on social media for the last few days.
Dr Ahamed said even manta rays, listed as protected under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), can be consumed domestically.
“It will only be illegal if the manta rays are exported,” he said.
He added that for sharks, the state government is still working with the federal side to establish which species should be listed as protected.
“The ones killed on the island off Semporna are not endangered,” he said.
Dr Ahamed said of the over 100 species of sharks and about 90 types of manta rays in Malaysia, several types are in dwindling numbers.
“These are the species that we are looking at protecting,” he said, adding that proposals have been sent to the Federal Government for action.
According to the CITES, the sharks and rays under proposal to be protected are the great hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, winghead shark, oceanic whitetip shark, oceanic manta and reef manta.
As of now, only whale sharks and sawfish are listed as protected in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, Dr Ahamed said the Government is also working with neighbouring countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia, to protect marine animals that are facing a population decline.
“Sharks and rays are migratory and we cannot be the only ones wanting to ban or protect these species; it will not mean anything if the sharks or rays are hunted in our neighbouring waters,” he said.
Conservationists have been calling for a ban on catching sharks and rays in Sabah, especially in the gazetted marine parks visited by divers from all over.