Neglect of fishery allows base instincts to prevail

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 July, 2008, 12:00am

Our city may have started out as a fishing port, but the government does not seem to take a serious interest in the future health of our fisheries industry. Nor have we developed adequate laws to protect rare marine species in our waters. As we report today, two majestic whale sharks recently visited our shores. Both were caught and ended up dead, after the same fisherman tried to sell them for large sums of money. Curiously, though the species is listed as vulnerable, catching and killing the sharks is not illegal; the law, apparently, only bans commercial trade in them and certain other protected species.

Fishermen we interviewed claim tougher laws have deterred many of them from trying to catch protected species. But, as the catching of the whale sharks has shown, it does not stop them altogether. To do so, the authorities should make catching protected species and failing to release them a serious offence. This is the case in Australia, the Philippines and many other countries; even the mainland has better laws, at least on paper. An ironic development is that many fishermen become more aggressive and irresponsible as our fish stocks dwindle and fish farms become more polluted. They know they must catch more now before the more valuable stocks become depleted; some are happy to catch small and even juvenile fish, instead of releasing them back into the sea. To avoid a collapse of the industry and of our marine stocks, the government must take the lead. The setting-up of four marine parks and a marine reserve has helped, as has an annual two-month fishing moratorium, but more must be done.

A government-appointed committee is looking into sustainable fisheries, but recommendations from such committees often end up being ignored by officials. To start seriously, experts say the government must first have a clear idea of what fish are in our waters. Officials interview fishermen about their catches each year, but the last comprehensive survey of our fishery resources was carried out a decade ago. Clearly, whatever data we have is out of date. The industry needs a long-term strategy to survive, but we must first have an accurate picture of our dwindling marine resources.