'Ban Viet fishing boats' call
Published on: Thursday, July 20, 2017
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Kota Kinabalu: Sabah is likely to face the need to import seafood if the present rate of unsustainable exploitation by foreign fishing vessels and blast fishing by foreigners go unabated.Simon Hong, Chairman of the Kota Kinabalu Fishing Boat Owners Association, said the association's members numbering some 150 have suffered "a significant drop" in their catch since the beginning of this year.

"They used to be able to catch more than 100 metric tonnes of fish per month, but this has fallen to below 50 tonnes from this year, which is a bad year for us thus far.

"Some local fishing boats are losing money even as the fuel prices are stabilising.

As a result, wholesale prices of fish here have gone up by 60 per cent, affecting the pockets of seafood consumers, over the past three months," he told a press conference here Wednesday.

Expressing full support for the call by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi in Kuching recently to bar all foreign fishing vessels from Sarawak's waters, Hong said such measure should be applied to Sabah as well.

Ahmad Zahid said encroachment of foreign fishing trawlers in the country's waters was among the matters discussed when his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Hoa Binh paid him a courtesy call recently.

He said both countries have been lenient with fishermen caught encroaching on each other's waters, by just having the offenders repatriated.

Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia can no longer be satisfied with this arrangement because the number of Vietnamese fishing trawlers found in Malaysian waters far outstrips the Malaysian vessels caught in Vietnamese waters.

"We have to be stern because foreign fishing trawlers are robbing the nation of its sea resources," he said.

Hong also highlighted that recently the Labuan Member of Parliament indicated the allowance of 10 foreign fishing vessels to operate off the island's waters, when Sarawak was intent on barring foreign fishing boats from operating in its territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

He said the fishermen's associations had given up making futile statements for positive action and development prior to Ahmad Zahid's statement on barring foreign fishing vessels.

"It's easy, just don't renew their permits when the due dates expire," said Hong, as was the case for Sarawak.

The Vietnamese fishing boat issue first surfaced in the peninsula and then spread to Sarawak and Sabah because the fishing permits were issued by the Federal authorities. Sabah and Sarawak lost control of their continental shelf because of oil and gas to the Federal Government during the declaration of Emergency after May 13, 1969.

Sabah has no power to issue the deep-sea fishing permits given to Vietnamese fishing vessels that are above 40 tonnes.

According to Hong, whether the Vietnamese fishing boats are illegal, cloned or licensed to operate in the Malaysian waters, none of their catches landed here or anywhere in Sabah but sent back to Vietnam.

He rued their destructive dragnet fishing method by two fishing boats, which is illegal in Malaysian waters, scouring all the sea floor in their wake, destroying marine and coral formations vital for fish regeneration, when in some cases they were only permitted to use the long line hooks fishing method.

In the past, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister-cum-Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin had denied a claim by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) for not acting against Vietnamese boats encroaching on Sabah waters because there was a MoU signed by Sabah and a Vietnam company.

Then, investigations uncovered the issue of cloned Vietnamese fishing boats operating in Sabah waters.

Now, for proper tracking of fishing boats, the authorities are keen to have all licensed fishing vessels equipped with IIBMS satellite location of ship tracking system.

Satellite-based vessel monitoring systems (VMS) in fisheries management is desirable because of their ability to track the location and monitor the activities of fishing vessels against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing with a greater level of monitoring, control and surveillance.

Hong said the fishermen were also frustrated in their dealings with the authorities, especially in trying to solve their manpower shortage problem by employing IMM13 workers.

He said they paid good money to validate the documents of the workers only to face the impasse of, on the one hand, the marine police approved but the MMEA did not approve the status of these foreign workers working in the fishing industry.

He suggested that the stateless and paperless Palau (Sea Gypsies) or Bajau Laut people restricted to the sea around Semporna be employed in the fishing industry in the West Coast as these seafarers are used to such lifestyle, instead of using Vietnamese crew and boats.

Hong said the fishing industry in the West Coast is fortunate to be spared of any crime.

There is an estimated 30 to 40 Vietnamese vessels operating with permit, with another 20 to 30 illegal ones from about 150- tonne capacity coming just across the South China Sea from Vietnam.

He revealed that Sabah has two local companies with deep-sea fishing resources.

Nevertheless, beyond the 60 nautical miles, the continental shelf drops too deep for any meaningful commercial fishing by Sabah fishing vessels of the 30 to 40-tonne capacity.

The speed of Sabah's fishing trawlers averaged about eight nautical miles per hour operating about 30 to 50 miles beyond the 6 to 12 miles offshore limit reserved for traditional fishermen.

Hong said although Sarawak is known for its ship building industry, Sabah also has fishing boat or shipbuilding capability, in Kudat and over in East Coast's Sandakan, to commission vessels up to 100 tonnes.

"The whole policy for the fishing industry needs a major overhaul and simplification of licensing and approval red tape while enforcement against illegal fishing by encroaching foreign fishing fleets ought to be beefed up for the interest of Sabah and Malaysia in general," he opined. - David Thien


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