Sabah might say no to shark-fin soup

Girl looks at beheaded shark / Image by amej

Environmental and consumer groups today backed a proposal in Sabah state on Borneo to ban shark hunting in a bid to conserve the species.

The Malaysian Chinese Food Consumer Association said it would support the ban, and urged all eateries to offer alternatives to shark fin soup, a culinary delicacy popular among ethnic Chinese.

Chin Yew Sin, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Chinese Associations, also welcomed the proposed ban and called on the Chinese community to support the move.

“We have hundreds of other dishes to choose from besides shark fin soup,” he said.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun had said the government was studying details of the proposed ban, adding that authorities deemed the falling number of sharks in Sabah’s waters as “critical”.

Local activists and foreign tourists have long complained about cruel shark finning activities by local fishermen, with some groups threatening to boycott Sabah’s beaches and diving spots unless a ban was in place.

Tourism is a major revenue earner for Sabah, which is famous for its rain forests and dive sites teeming with coral reefs and marine life.

The Malaysian Nature Society hailed the move, but urged the state government to also ban the consumption of shark fin soup.

“We hope Sabah will serve as an example for other states,” said Andrew Sebastian, the group’s head of communications.

The shark ban, which authorities say could be in place by next year, would make Sabah the first state in Malaysia to impose such a ruling.

Masidi had said earlier that wildlife experts estimated that the shark population in Sabah’s waters had declined drastically and there were only four spots in the entire state where the creatures had been spotted in recent times.

The proposal has also met with resistance from some restaurant operators in Sabah, who say that sharks are also harvested for their flesh, skin and bones, and not only for their fins.

Shark fin soup is often served at weddings and banquets as a symbol of wealth.

Masidi said the state government was working with environmental groups to educate the public to refrain from choosing shark fin dishes, and instead try alternative dishes during banquets.

– dpa