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Overfishing drying up supply

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has lost almost 92 per cent of its fish resources to overfishing in a span of 36 years from 1971 to 2007, according to surveys and reports by the country’s Department of Fisheries.

In response to the alarming decline in fish stocks, the department recently implemented a new requirement that makes it an offence for fisherman to use trawling nets with a mesh size of less than 38mm. This is to protect smaller fishes that would otherwise be caught alongside commercial fishes.

While the move has been lauded by environmental NGOs such as WWF Malaysia, fisherman are not pleased. They claim that larger size mesh prevents them from catching smaller seafood such as shrimp, which in turn deprived them of additional income used to cover operational costs and losses during bad seasons.

While Gangaram Pursumal, manager of WWF Malaysia’s Peninsular Malaysia Seas Programme, acknowledges that the ruling will result in smaller catches of fish, he stresses that fisherman need to look at the big picture and prioritise long-term sustainability over short-term profits.

“Fish stocks are not inexhaustible – they cannot be replenished once they are totally exhausted. If we continue at this current rate, we may have to import all our fish in future and the fishing industry will be affected,” he tells The Heat, adding that the country is already importing fish from Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar to meet local demand.

Gangaram says WWF is working with the Fisheries Department on the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management regime that takes into account the different areas of the fishing industry.

The Fisheries Department is also looking into other sustainable fishing measures such as catch limits and closed seasons for fishing to protect species of fish during vulnerable times in their life cycle.

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