KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is set to declare three of its marine parks as shark sanctuaries by mid-2016 in a bid to protect the endangered marine creatures, state Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said.

He said the Tun Sakaran marine park in Semporna district, Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park here and the proposed Tun Mustapha marine park in Kudat would be declared shark sanctuaries.

“These marine parks cover a total area of some 2mil hectares and is home to about 80% of our shark population,” said Masidi after launching the My Fin My Life campaign to reduce shark fin consumption and promote sustainable seafood here on Sunday.

He said the move to ban shark fishing at the marine parks would hopefully increase the shark population.

“We applaud Mr. Masidi for taking leadership in marine and shark protection. This is a great step towards protecting sharks in Sabah,” said David McGuire, Director of Shark Stewards and a member of the Sabah Shark Protection Association. “Creating safe zones for sharks and protecting habitat is key for the health and welfare of the Sabah marine ecology and economy.”

Masidi said his ministry’s officers were finalising documents to be tabled during the state Cabinet meeting for the three marine parks to be gazetted as shark sanctuaries. The Minsiter said the announcement would coincide with the declaration of the Tun Mustapha marine park in the middle of the year.

The state had no choice but to use state laws to protect Sabah’s shark population when a request to the Federal government to amend the Fisheries Act to protect marine creature was rejected, added the Minister.

“We only asked for shark hunting to be banned in Sabah, not in other states,” said Masidi, adding he was not afraid of being “politically incorrect” in the name of protecting the state’s natural heritage.

Last September Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said that the Sabah government’s request for a ban on shark hunting and finning in the state was unnecessary.

He said sharks, unlike tuna, were accidentally caught by fishermen in Malaysian waters. This indicated that shark hunting and the finning industry did not exist in Malaysia. This statement has been refuted by evidence provided by Shark Stewards and the Sabah Shark Protection Association, including documentation in the series Borneo From Below.

Apart from exports, Malaysia was the third largest importer of shark fins between 2000 and 2011. Using statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WWF-Malaysia’s Marine Program estimates 84 per cent of imported shark fins were eaten domestically between 2004 and 2011 (an average of 1,384 metric tons per year).

“Following trends globally for many shark species, it is estimated that 90% of Malaysia’s sharks have disappeared. We hope the Malaysian and other regional governments take notice,” adds McGuire.

Globally, there has been a positive trend of banning shark fishing and trade by several countries such as Canada, Brunei, Bahamas, Guam, Maldives, United Arab Emirates and the region of Raja Ampat in Indonesia.

SSPA champions the protection of endangered sharks and rays in Sabah through three areas of work – habitat protection through existing or new Marine Protected Areas; the strengthening of governance and law; and continued awareness raising, especially among consumers and engagement with the business sector to reduce pressure on sharks in the wild. SSPA is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).