Still no end to fish bombing, bottom trawling
Published on: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Spectacular Table Coral in Sipadan.
SABAH has many core problems that are not solved. Here is a persistent case – decades of fish bombing, violent shattering destruction of our top dog treasure within – our reefs, marine wonders and diving.   

Divers moan and groan about it but for bombers and trawlers, it’s business as usual. Covid-19 lockdown since March 18 should have kept this terror out.   

But upon return to diving last week, divers – Adzmin Fatta of Reef Check Malaysia, Shamil Arif of UMS, Michelle Wong of Mantanani Divers, its founder Robert Thien and instructor Aaron Gavin – found to their shock two turtles dead. 

A dead turtle found trapped in a trawl ghost net in Mantanani last week.

The turtles were trapped among “tons of ghost nets” plus a raft of loud explosive, reported Durie Fong, a former Daily Express colleague.   

The two culprits here are fish bombers and bottom trawlers. They have been on this destructive trail for years. 

Are they mortgaging Sabah’s future by doing this on and on, and nobody could stop them? 

Spectre of total destruction 

The spectre of total destruction is possible because a RM15 fish bomb can shatter a 15m radius reef in one single blast, while less criticised bottom trawling by dragging heavy weight nets to catch large quantities of fish in one go and flattens the seabed.     

Fish die and turtles drown when trapped in the tons of ghost nets stuck on the reefs.

Datuk Jimmy Wong admiring a turtle during a dive in Sipadan on June 21, 2020. 

The extremely short-sighted interest of a blast fisher is just this – either stun fish through shock waves or directly kill schools of fish for easy collection, to hell with the coral reefs

But fishes and reefs are not the only victims.   

When local and foreign divers are killed 

On July 5, 2019, fish bombs killed Malaysian dive master Ab Zainal Abdu, 30, Chinese Zhao Zhong, 26, and Xu Yinjie, 20, while diving off Pulau Kalapuan, Semporna. 

Post mortem reportedly found massive internal injuries and minor superficial injuries consistent with blast injuries. 

As usual, the shock prompted burst of zeal for solution. 

Trawl net or ghost net stuck on a coral mount in Mantanani. 

Assistant Commissioner Mohamed Pajeri Ali vowed if there were one achievement he wanted, it would be putting an end to fish blasting!

He said there are 36 active blast fishing sites in Sabah, meaning, it’s still rampant. 

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal called for stiffer penalties to stem out fish bombing          

Dive Ranger group founder Jude Julius urged Tourism Minister Datuk Christina Liew to prioritise good riddance to fish bombing.

Too many bombs going off 

Between July and December 2019, Dive Ranger recorded no less than 80 blasts.

Close to KK, one group of foreign divers were left in fear after shock waves rattled them while diving near Gaya Island 10 minutes from the capital city, reported Jason Santos, another ex-Daily Express colleague.   

 A fish bomb goes off – too many.

“Too many bombs are going off. We may have to say goodbye to dive tourism because it is destroying the delicate underlying habitat,” said Aderik Chung, founder of Sabah Shark Protection Association.

As great as our avowed marine biodiversity, our conservation had not kept pace with destructive fishing. 

Fish bombers, and may we say bottom trawlers, had piled destruction upon destruction on our great treasure within, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary gains of the present. 

The marine environmental ills that came upon since probably the 70s just don’t seem to go away. 

There is no indication of the will and capacity on what needs to be done to preserve this last bastion of treasure within. 

Who will crack the magic whip?

Who can finally put to bed blast fishing and maybe bottom trawling? 

Jude looked to a top down solution, that is, the Government.

Before and after bottom trawling. 

Everybody thinks the Government is the answer – maybe somehow a good Government would make all the difference.

There is still a desperate hope that somehow the Government would crack the magic whip because as much as divers and shark protectors howl, it is our Government which has been granted that power by the governed.

Wouldn’t the Government say it’s time to take stock, check and use that power given them by consent of the governed to reverse the rot? 

Reagan: Government is not the solution  

But listening to the late US President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech the other day, Reagan surprisingly painted a pessimistic view of government.

Addressing the crisis of his day, he labelled “the terror of runaway cost of living,” Reagan made one of the famous or stunning statements on the limits of government.

Ronald Reagan: 40th President of the United States.

His most-quoted statement goes like this: “In this present crisis (his days in the 80s), government is not the solution to our problem – government is the problem!”   

What does he mean?

“From time to time we are tempted to believe that society had become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that is, government by one elite group is superior to government for, by and of the people,” he invoked Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy.

Frankly, I am surprised Reagan interpreted Lincoln’s famous mantra on democracy means direct self-rule, over all the people, by all the people, of all the people, can handle society’s complex issues. 

People and Special Interest Groups the answer?

He held that unwavering faith of people to solve core problems.

Who are the people? He said, “Special interest group”.

“We hear much about special interest groups. Our concern must be a special interest group that has long been neglected. 

“It knows no sectional boundary or ethnic or racial division and it crosses political party line. 

“It is made up of men and women who raise our food (farmers), patrol our streets (policemen), people who man our minds (academicians) and factory (workers), teaches our children (teachers), keep our house (housewife) and heal us when we are sick (doctors), professionals, lawyers, industrialists, shop keepers, clerks, cabbies, truck drivers,” Reagan noted, plus probably millions of groups.

Reagan is advocating the doctrine of laissez-faire – leaving things to take their own course without interfering, based on his tacit belief that the government is not the solution – government is the problem.

Maybe that describes what happens out there at sea – a red ocean where the government is not the solution.  

When special interest groups work on crossed purposes at sea  

But the real problem is out at sea are these “special interest groups” cited by Reagan all working on cross purposes!

First, the fish bombers want to keep their special interest on fish blasting to stun or kill schools of fish for easy collection, to hell with coral reefs.

Of course. they get away with it. Year in and year out because the government is not the solution.

Second, the trawlers also want their special interest to catch large numbers of fish in one single drag along the sea bed, to hell with coral reefs.

Of course, they also get away with it because – again – the government is not the solution.

Third, the divers want perfect, healthy vigorous coral reefs attract die-hard clients to pay big bucks just to look at the marine wonders but they are powerless except beg the government.

Divers need understand where they fit into the big picture  

But do the diving fraternity see the real and big core problem? 

Looking at the big picture and placed in context, marine conservationists like divers are but a very feeble voice among millions of competing special interest groups all jostling for their own niche advantages, particularly in the world of super rich and powerful special interest lobbies who cannot care a hood about the future of the oceans and caring for Mother Earth except their own financial results.

In context, can marine conservationists expect special interest lawyers, architects, politicians, truck drivers, priests, teachers, doctors, policemen, soldiers, industrialists, economists, dentists, developers, journalists etc to show interest and commit support in their passionate concern? 

No, little or none so far.       

When good intentions lead to ‘hell’  

Back to the impact of Reagan 30 years later, there is an axiom “Hell is paved with good intentions” attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who coined it in 1090.

Reagan probably meant well when he said “the government is not the solution – the government is the problem”, by arguing for what he thought best be done then  – “it’s time to check and reverse growth of government which showed signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed,” citing the great tax burden which had not kept pace with public spending that piled up deficits after deficits which mortgage America’s future.

For sure this is quite true of Malaysia now, where one in 19 Malaysians is a public servant costing the government a massive salary and pensions bill of about RM100 billion per year!   

But who pays? The tax payers. 

Can they afford this next year when the biggest tax payers like Petronas and Genting Group were making biglosses recently due to the draconian lockdown?

Reagan’s impact – Abdication of governments from Common Interest  

The problem is Reagan’s solution trusted by many led basically to the abdication of governments from delivering common or public interest outcomes when he mounted the biggest privatisation of government assets not just in US but joined by Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister of the UK.    

In place of the government was the rise of an oligarchy in the US – a group of super rich and powerful economic, business and financial special interest lobbies who allegedly can buy off politicians and administrations and work all things against the interest of Mother Earth by exercising controlling influence to zealously protect their own interest. 

Trump has made it worse remember, by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement meant to get all nations to work as one to secure the future of Planet Earth.       

Voices from Mantanani still yearn for Government solution

Well, the latest voices from Mantanani again shows they hope the Government become a solution for a change.

So, the diving industry has a serious dilemma: For the moment, neither the Government nor the people can terminate the fish blasting menace from Sabah. 

People-wise, out there are warring special interest groups who cross swords.  

Government-wise, Reagan has said it: “The problem with government by the elite is if no one among us is capable of governing oneself, who among the ruling elite has the capacity to govern someone else.”     

Good use of State power offers glimmer of hope  

So is Sabah going to be permanently stuck with this core problem called fish bombing? 

Maybe there is still a glimmer of hope. The case for good government is not dead. The Government of Sabah need not be the problem. 

Indeed it can be the solution because the legitimate power to do so has been granted to it by consent of the governed. 

There is such a purpose called Common Interest or Public Interest.   

There are people in government who care for the need of the State, the need of the people. 

Maybe we can get people in high places like Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister, Datuk Jimmy Wong, who is a certified diver to crank up the State Government for a lasting solution to this stubborn core problem.

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