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Review Plan to Unfreeze Permits

September 5, 2008

By Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma

WE refer to the statement by the agriculture and agro-based industry minister to look into unfreezing some 16,000 fishing vessel licences (“Government to look into frozen fishing vessel licences” – NST, Aug 29).

WWF-Malaysia requests the ministry to reconsider the plan to unfreeze those licences.

The Fisheries Department surveys show up to a 90 per cent decline in coastal-fish resources since the late 1960s. We, therefore, strongly support the statement made last year by the director- general of fisheries, who was quoted in the same article on this subject as saying that the coastal seas are highly overexploited already.

The moratorium in 1982 was instituted due to the overexploitation of coastal fishery resources. The number of licensed vessels decreased from 41,497 in 1982 to 38,153 in 2006. Despite that, landings of marine catch increased from 0.68 million tonnes in 1982 to 1.38 million tonnes in 2006. However, during that time, fish resources continued to decline.

The 2003 national conference on fisheries management, organised by the department to address overfishing in Malaysia, concluded that:

* There are too many boats and fishers exploiting the fishery resources in the coastal waters of Malaysia.

* There is an urgent need for the authorities to implement comprehensive action programmes to reduce fishing capacity and rehabilitate resources in coastal areas.

* Given the ineffectiveness of past approaches, innovative strategies are needed, involving effective partnership among government agencies, fisheries and other stakeholders.

* Failure to act urgently in a resolute and effective manner will lead to irreversible damage to the fishery resources, income of fishers and the socioeconomic well-being of coastal communities.

The present economic pie for fishermen is small due to high operating costs and low catches. Coastal fish landings have stagnated at about one million tonnes since 1997, mainly due to declining resources.

Increasing the number of vessels would mean the share of the pie gets smaller for everyone and would continue to threaten Malaysia’s already overfished fishery resources.

WWF-Malaysia feels the conclusions of the 2003 conference are not being addressed sufficiently. We propose:

* That the Fisheries Department be moved to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry – fish are a natural resource rather than a cultivated commodity. This ministry is a more logical administration for a resource that requires sustainable management;

* That the department adopts an ecosystem-based management approach utilising greater stakeholder involvement, marine protected areas, “off-season”, selective fishing gears, and so on; and

* That the government joins its neighbours in addressing common issues of overfishing in the region by developing a national action plan of its own and also signing a joint action plan for the region through the Coral Triangle Initiative.

DATUK DR DIONYSIUS S.K. SHARMA

for WWF-Malaysia

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