Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sabah tourism's big threat - Shark fin menus

KOTA KINABALU: A mass boycott of restaurants serving shark fin dishes has been called for by tour operators. The clarion call comes amid fears that the iconic marine predator is being hunted to extinction.

And its disappearance could have a devastating effect on Sabah’s tourism industry which raked in RM6.4 billion in 2015.

That was the singular warning from the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) which have also called for urgent federal government action.

“The shark population in Sabah has declined by 80 per cent over the past three decades and they are rarer in waters off peninsular Malaysia,” said MATTA vice president-elect Datuk Tan Kok Liang yesterday.

“The remaining sharks found in Sabah attracted over 55,000 divers last year, pumping RM323 million to the local economy. But this annual revenue may be wiped out once the sharks are further depleted,”he said.

According to him, shark hunting and finning had already been banned by the European Union, and a further 27 other nations have followed suit since 2013.

Sabah has repeatedly called on the federal government to ban shark hunting.

“We need to be more caring and shark finning is cruel. As for the tourism industry, it is no different from killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Many tourist visiting Sabah were environmental conscious, and if this continued, it could backfire on ecotourism.

“But the ban on shark hunting and killing will continue to be delayed as long as the hunters are accorded greater priority than this magnificent fish species, which plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature in our marine ecosystems,” Tan said.

He added that MATTA was now adopting a two-prong approach by calling for a boycott of establishments serving shark fins.

“The slogan – When the buying stops, the killing can too – is just as applicable here as in other conservation efforts.

“Shark fin consumption has no longer been in vogue for some time and leading hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, JW Marriott, Le Meridien, Peninsula, Shangri-La, Waldorf Astoria and Westin do not serve it.”

A recent report by the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, found that a shocking 98 per cent of the 375 restaurants surveyed continue to choose profit over environmentally friendly practices.

But if voluntary efforts were ineffective, tourism authorities could compile a blacklist of restaurants serving shark fins so that tourists could boycott them altogether, and not just the dish.

“A strategic campaign to raise awareness and educate restaurant operators, locals and tourists would have a rippling effect across society, and ensure that such noble conservation efforts are sustainable.

“A simple competition to pick the best slogan for not eating shark fins would generate much interest and publicity, and those enterprising enough to take part could make a killing selling T-shirts with meaningful slogans,” he added.